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Celebration, Florida: 20 Years Later

Disney's efforts to make a quaint American town both failed and succeeded in ways few could have predicted.
January 10, 2017, 10am PST | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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John Sternbergh Photography

Walt Disney's ambitions to build a perfect town were foiled in part by his death from lung cancer shortly after announcing his plan. Years later, Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, began work on what would become Celebration, Florida. "The town was developed by Disney as an antidote to the isolation of the suburbs," The Economist reports.  It would be built with a sense of place at a human scale, "This community would have 20,000 residents, a central business district and futuristic public transport. Cars and lorries would be hidden away underground," continues the article..

Unfortunately, the town was unable to blossom into, "…a charming mid-Atlantic city, such as Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina." The Economist cites a number of reasons for the town's relative level of success. In particular, the designers seem to have had different desires and interests than did the people the development attracted. The Economist notes that parks, which are no longer run by Disney, now are off limits to non-residents to the point where, "Sitting on a park bench is considered trespassing." A progressive public school designed specifically for the town did not last long there or win the hearts of the residents. "It proved a disaster. Kids slacked off. Without test scores, parents were unable to track their children’s progress." Still, with all its failings the town continues to attract homebuyers willing to pay a decided premium over the homes in the surrounding area. It seems that even with a downtown that never brought the business that the designers hoped for continues to draw residents.  

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Published on Saturday, December 24, 2016 in The Economist
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