The Fatal Flaw of Celebration, FL

Architect Richard Reep argues that the fatal flaw of Celebration and other New Urbanist-style developments around Florida is the lack of jobs within walking distance.
October 30, 2008, 2pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"By regulating the specific architectural form of a new development, the New Urbanists proposed to improve the blandness, placelessness, and lack of character that is the lot of most contemporary suburbs. Celebration, sponsored by Disney, opened to white-hot press acclaim nationwide. Phase 2 was opened ahead of schedule due to demand for new homes. Market values of homes rose quickly beyond the norm for Central Florida. Developers took notice.

Soon, other spawn of Celebration began to show up in Central Florida, and today we have several New Urbanist communities that aspire to the same level of success. Baldwin Park, funded by Chicago's Pritzker family, is a smaller scale version of Celebration located in the City of Orlando and convenient to downtown. Avalon Park, in the southeast corner of Orange County, is accessed from the perimeter highway that is turning Orlando into a mini-Atlanta. Horizon West, the youngest of these, is due west of Downtown Orlando, and offers another New Urbanist antidote to subdivisions, adhering to the same formula of "live, work, and play." All of these, including Celebration, are coping with the housing crisis, foreclosure crisis, and various other current market conditions just like the rest of us.

Sadly the "live, work, and play" slogan, which comes from New Urbanist literature, does not bear out in reality. The notion is fine enough: that people can reduce commutes by living and working in the same community. During the supposedly halcyon days of pre-auto, early 20th century America, this was the reality for many Americans. One's life could occur within a small, walkable radius, reinforcing itself and reinforcing the social bonds of a community.

But the early 21st Century is very different than the early 20th and New Urbanist attempts to travel backwards in time have met with limited success. To work near where you live, there needs to be employment down the street. None of these communities have employment opportunities – jobs – down the street from the residences. The dwellers of all these communities get in their cars and drive to their jobs off-campus. New Urbanism thus becomes an after-6pm-and-weekend lifestyle choice, not a new way of life."

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Published on Thursday, October 30, 2008 in newgeography
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