Michael Bierut | Essays

Looking for Celebration, Florida

After twenty years, Michael Eisner stepped down last month as head of the Walt Disney Company. He leaves a substantial, if mixed, legacy. On his watch, Disney created a worldwide empire of theme parks, launched a cruise ship line, bought a television network, and joined the first ranks of Hollywood movie studios.

And, along the way, they built a town in central Florida called Celebration, where nearly 10,000 people live today, inspiring at least three books, dozens of websites, and — uniquely, to my knowledge, among American communities — one song by the leftist agitprop band Chumbawamba ("Social engineering/It gives you that fuzzy feeling/Down in Celebration, Florida").

I worked on the graphics for Celebration, Florida. To this day, it remains one of my favorite projects.

Celebration has its origins, some say, in Walt Disney's original vision for EPCOT, an acronym with a largely forgotten source: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney conceived it as a real, albeit futuristic, working town with actual citizens commuting by monorail to a town center housed under a geodesic dome. This vision proved more durable as theme park than working town, but the dream lived on. And when Disney's real estate experts decided that 10,000 acres of undeveloped swampland immediately south of Disney World might be worth more to the company as residential development, the time was right for Eisner to make Walt's fantasy real.

Celebration, however, was a fantasy more suited to Andy Hardy than Buck Rogers. The city was to be the most fully-realized expression of the principles of New Urbanism, the planning theory that seeks to reinstate the virtues of early 20th-century American town life by making small, pedestrian-scaled communities that mix a variety of housing choices with retail and business. This is not a radical idea, but only seems so in a country single-mindedly dedicated to replicating the economically convenient tropes of suburban sprawl. A successful model already existed just to the north in the Florida panhandle town of Seaside, where New Urbanist pioneers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk had first developed their town planning ideas. In Celebration, Disney was in effect mounting a major-studio remake of DPZ's surprisingly profitable indy feature, complete with serious budgets and big name talent. Planned by Robert A. M. Stern and Jaquelin Roberson, Celebration would bring together many of Eisner's favored architects: in addition to buildings by Stern and Robertson, the town would feature a bank by Robert Venturi, a post office by Michael Graves, a movie theater by Cesar Pelli, and a town hall by Philip Johnson. Houses would be built according to an old-fashioned pattern book, with models for six different styles: Classical, Victorian, Colonial Revival, Coastal, Mediterranean, and French Normandy. (Notably missing: "Gehry-esque.")

Our job was to create the signage. It was a fascinating challenge, trying to create a coherent sense of place without overwhelming the residents with "branding." There were only a few useful models to go on. Forest Hill Gardens, in Queens, New York, was my favorite; there, anonymous signmakers had created a charming consistency without succumbing to sameness or cliche. We worked with so many different architects that the early choice of Cheltenham as the "town typeface" seemed prescient, since it too was designed by an architect, Bertram Goodhue. We ended up designing not only street signs and shop signs, but manhole covers, fountains, golf course graphics, park trail markers, the sales center and even that pattern book for the houses. We resisted invitations to design a logo, arguing that towns didn't have logos; finally, an unused manhole cover design featuring a silouetted girl on a Schwinn-style bicycle and a dog became the "town seal." Everyone was amazingly idealistic; the true believers managing the project would make many of the my non-profit clients look crass and cynical by comparison. We were building the future! It was one of those rare occasions when I felt like I got to design the whole world. It has not happened since.

Celebration turned ten years old this year, and it has worn well despite some bumps at the start. (Many of these involved the town's school, a well-funded progressive institution that was a powerful lure to homebuyers but which turned out to be a bit too experimental for many parents.) Real estate values there are far above the national average, and as Witold Rybczynski has observed, "While Celebration was artfully designed to return to small-town values, it has suffered the fate of many attractive small towns, such as Aspen or Nantucket: Its downtown has become a tourist destination." Yet when I lecture and describe any number of projects I've worked on, nine times out of ten the first question is about Celebration, and the question is usually some version of: But isn't that Disney town sort of, you know, creepy?

Creepy. Well. For many, the relentlessly cheerful monoculture suggested by the Disney imprimatur provides an inescapably Orwellian aspect to the entire enterprise. Yet, as a place to live, particularly in central Florida, Celebration is relatively benign. Consider, instead, the kind of Floridian residential development where more than one of my close relatives make their homes; its archetype is familiar to any viewer of Seinfeld: Del Boca Vista Phase 3, where Jerry's parents spend their time golfing, fighting over the air conditioning and engaging in condominium-centered political intrigue. On the face of it, Celebration compares favorably. The community is not gated; the mixture of houses and apartments, of small yards and well-planned common park space, is lively and convincing; you can actually having a pleasant experience walking around. And of course, if Disney creeps you out, you can remember what might Eisner said at a press conference before the town's ribbon cutting: "The first principle of Celebration is that no one is actually required to live here."

Of course, designers are always eager to talk about authenticity, or the lack thereof, at Celebration. Here I find myself confused. The styles proscribed in Celebration's pattern book — Classical, Victorian, Colonial Revival — are viewed with suspicion, if not outright contempt, a recipe for stagecraft and fakery. But authenticity is a slippery thing. I live in a 1909 house that the realtor said was Victorian but I'd more accurately call Craftsman Style. Far from "authentic," to me it looks like it was built by someone who had seen some pictures of Greene and Greene houses and thought one might look good in Westchester County. It's surrounded by equally inauthentic hundred-year-old houses, all of which look swell today because they're so old. New Urbanists often say that nostalgia is the Trojan Horse in which they deliver their radical planning ideas: small lots, mixed use, limited parking. Jacque Robertson once said in Celebration's early days, "This will look great when all these trees grow in." I suspect he's right.

What unnerves me most about Celebration is actually what is not Celebration. Despite the increasing popularity of New Urbanist principles, the country's vast scale means that places like Celebration will remain anomalies, isolated Brigadoons dropped into bleak exurban landscapes. I remember an early planning meeting for the project, where, after hours of talk about picket fences, paving patterns and live oak trees, the discussion turned to the design of a "vertical entry feature," a tall landmark that would provide a target to guide people to the town. We were considering relocating a historic water tower to the site. Then someone said, "Wait: how tall would it be compared to the water slide?" Water slide? What water slide? Well, across the street from the town's entrance was a completely unquaint, moderately tawdry water park, populated by screaming kids and rowdy teens drinking Mountain Dews and eating twist cones. And we suddenly remembered what so much design was being deployed to help us forget: that real life, in all its uncontrolled, aggressive profusion, would be transpiring as usual right across the street from, and indeed all around, this carefully planned precinct.

In the cult novel Time and Again by Jack Finney, the modern-day protagonist is enlisted to serve in a secret time travel experiment. But the experiment doesn't involve molecular transmutation, black holes or oscillating tunnels. Instead, the hero (oddly enough, a commercial artist who happens to be obsessed with the past) is moved into the 19th-century New York City landmark Dakota, and is gradually surrounded with all the details of 1882 day-to-day life, down to the daily delivery of facsimile newspapers. Finally, with the illusion seamless and complete, it becomes reality: one morning the hero simply wakes up in the real, unsimulated world of 1882, as easy as that. Celebration, I believe, speaks to that same yearning, that same science fiction fantasy, and the same promise that one day the fantasy will be made real.

Time travel is only science fiction when it happens suddenly, and compared with most places we like, Celebration happened suddenly. But we travel through time every day of our lives. It's simply at a pace too slow to notice. Ten years old, Celebration may still seem like a fantasy. But eventually, at a rate too slow to notice, those trees will grow in.

Posted in: Architecture, Social Good

Comments [43]

I visited Celebration earlier this year. One of my clients builds 'master-planned' communities, so we had a drive-though to see what it was all about.

Creepy doesn't begin to decribe it. I was impressed with the overall quality and consistency of the branding and design, however, I truly felt like I was on the set of Pleasantville. Well designed or not, the entire place felt... fake (and white). It made an impression, that's for sure; I got rather freaked out by the experience.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I couldn't imagine what life must be like there. Forget about colouring outside the lines. Forget about original thought. It's a shame that some people are so scared of the world that they feel the need to hide in a place like that.

A decent article from Duany himself is is here. He addresses some stated controversies. I tried finding a few articles that linger in my mind, but can't, but I also recall criticisms of scale (housing types too uniform) and organization, in that they Association that runs Celebration is no more enlighted to New Urbanism ideals than any other. I also recall some discussion that people wanted to distance themselves since these small but important changes would eventually undermine the distinguishing characteristics of Celebration that might make it more town-like (as opposed to 'suburban housing development like').

Duany certainly glosses over the failure to provide a broader mix of housing for varying income levels. Robert Davis reported the same issue at Seaside, though the circumstances were different there (he claimed that the artificial scarcity in the early days was about insuring design diversity and quality, and that they never expected values to appreciate so quickly, rendering his purported dream of affordable beach community moot). In either case, there is no answer in extant New Urbanist experiments to accomodate anything less than the median in terms of housing cost. Considering the large number of people this encompasses, this single characteristic makes the term 'abject failure' relevant, even before one starts a conversation about 'authenticity'.

To that point, why people complain about Celebration is because Seaside has a truly inventive style code, but this still caused an uproar when Walter Chatham proposed a house strictly withing in code, but did not look like the gingerbread Victorian that most people had come to expect from Seaside (it was eventually built and look to be as wonderful as most of the houses there). So the pattern book for Celebration was "Learning from Seaside", meaning that the flexibility that produced such wonderful diversity in capable hands was all but eliminated.

You may have purchased a house that some would call 'inauthentic' (though, strictly speaking, even though craftsman style home originated in a particular location, provided the design concepts and assembly techniques were similar, I don't know that regionalism is a cruicial component, since the craftsman style was the culmination of successive waves of wooden post and beam exploration that travelled westward with the settling of the country and subsequent desire to built more regal dwellings, even before the infrastructure was in place to erect more "traditonal" mansions) when built Michael, but have you ever recommended to clients that they buy off the shelf templates for a logo or PowerPoint presentation?
Miss Representation

Thank you so much for sharing this. I've found myself in Celebration at two times in my life, once in high school when it was just getting off the ground and again in 2003. On my second visit I was amazed at how differently I felt about it--the first visit left me thinking (using a much younger mind) that it would be a great place to live, while the second had me thinking it was, as you said, creepy. What strikes me the most about Celebration is that the money that lines the pockets of the people who created it comes from the world they are trying to keep Celebration from resembling. Isn't Disney, after all, one of Earth's main contributors to uncontrolled, aggressive profusion?
Justin Mayer

Actually, Miss Rep, I have suggested to clients that they use "default" design solutions when it seems appropriate. I rather approve of Tibor Kalman's advice to a museum client looking for a logo: just pick a typeface out a book and use it all the time. I concede, however, the parallels between graphic design and architecture are rather shaky.

Duany's book Suburban Nation has a part towards the end labeled "A Note on Style" where he more or less says (I'm paraphrasing) that it's hard enough getting New Urbanist planning principals sold through without trying to force Modernism down their unwilling throats as well. Celebration does have a kind of relentlessness to it that as I say above time will mitigate; in the meantime, it's amazing to read in The Celebration Chronicals that most residents seem to want it to be even more perfect, not less.

The tendency of New Urbanist solutions to be more uniformly expensive rather than less is often touted as proof of the soundness of the concept, dismaying but not surprising in a society where that's our favorite way to keep score.
Michael Bierut

"most residents seem to want it to be even more perfect, not less" That is frightening.

By comparison, I also visited Stapleton in Denver a couple of months ago Link and got the impression of urban planning and renewal heading in the right direction. Not nearly the creepy Stepford Wives vibe that I got from Celebration.

And of course, if Disney creeps you out, you can remember what might Eisner said at a press conference before the town's ribbon cutting: "The first principle of Celebration is that no one is actually required to live here."

That he actually had to spell that out is disturbing in itself...

Theo, he was being ironic.
Michael Bierut

It's clear to me that often designers forget who they are designing for. There is a group of people out there, who are not interested in post-modernism, new urbanist, or what have you.

They're hard working people with kids and pets and bills and worries. And these people are striving for a sense of control...control over their day-to-day enviroment. and gosh darnit they want to bike to a ice cream shop.

Celebration and all is well crafted 'design' is all fine and good. It's perfectly valid lifestyle choice.

You're assuming these are dizzy mineded Stepford zombies just consuming whatever is put in front of them. While some may be not all are.

Celebration is an attempt at the best of both worlds. What's wrong with that?

I come from NYC, I've lived the true gritty inner city urban life. And while I exhalt the aesthetic and exhibit it in my work (at times) there is a reality seperate from that.

Celebration, as a community is no less colorful, vibrant, purposeful or serendipitous than Rego Park or Corona or Bed-Sty....well not Bed-Sty :--)

The manhole covers rule. And there's a pretty darn good cuban restaurant there too...

Duany's not a fool, and, to the dismay of many of the more blantantly nostalic New Urbansist, has never demonstrated himself as anit-modern.

But he's being a bit disingenuous when he sets up that false dichotomy between NewUrbs pastiche and modernism. Once you get past the sleek urbanism evinced in the work of firms like OMA (Koolhass), or locals like Thomas Leeser or Diller Scofidio Renfro, you might find that there are plenty of regional firsm that don't have to resort to nostaglic cant to make homes (see short list below, all of whom might be welcome at Seaside, and none of whom would be welcome at Celebration).

I still argue that the driving force in New Urbanism's popularity (though not the goal of its progenitors) is not a sensitivity to the physical form of the city, but a retorgrade nostalgia, one that is cheek and jowl with forms of social repression that enable the justification for winding back to the good old days. Leaving one's doors unlocked rubs uncomfortably with marginalizing black populations and biking for ice cream envisions a stay-at-home mother with no aspirations of her own.

I've lived in the south and traveled the coast extensively. The proportion of gated communities with aspirations to plantation chic is overwhelming. Why does a golf community 40 miles from Wilmington NC need an armed gate, except that it symbolically echoes the social control of the underclass by police in decades past that is no longer socially acceptable?

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
miss representation

Miss R writes:

"Leaving one's doors unlocked rubs uncomfortably with marginalizing black populations and biking for ice cream envisions a stay-at-home mother with no aspirations of her own."

What I take this to mean is: Living near black folks is cause to lock one's doors; and living in a place in which one could actually ride a bike is a recipe for house-bound social failure.

As the subjects of Leslie Savan's new book might say, Puh-lease.

Everything is nostalgia, eventually -- modernism is just nostalgia for the future, rooted by the same disgust with the present that informs new urbanist nostalgia.
Tom Vanderbilt

Purely coincidental, from today's New York Times:

"A licensing deal unveiled this week bringing together [Martha] Stewart's how-to empire and KB Home, one of the country's largest community developers, is being described by both sides as the synergistic, all-but-inevitable mingling of two home-oriented giants. The deal calls for the construction of 650 homes early next year in a subdivision in Cary, N.C., to be called 'KB Home Twin Lakes: Homes Created With Martha Stewart' and inspired by the look of three of her residences."
Michael Bierut

I wonder how one gauges if a real-estate development such as Celebration is a success. If all the plots sell, is that enough to deem it a worthy endeavour? If that's the case, and let's pretend that it was a profitable venture, has Disney the company started any new communities? If not, what could the possible reasons be?
Michael Surtees

I grew up in a generic suburban development not far from Celebration in the great, unending sprawl that is South Orlando. Despite my feelings of uneasiness towards the sterility of Celebration (and the complete lack of minorities), I couldn't help but feel a little bit jealous towards the kids who would grow up never knowing what it is to ride your bike two miles in the Florida sun just to go anywhere.

My old neighborhood is likely to never be quite so charming, unless the "trees to grow in" somehow pop out of the concrete.

I guess what bothers me most about this kind of development is that aspect of borrowing into the past for comfort. Why can't we create a new, tomorrow's nostalgia? It doesn't have to be a choice between "Classicism" and "Modernism". The truly interesting and exciting architectural concepts, to me, are unusual things that have never been done before; the use of new technology, materials and construction methods combined with the lessons we've learned about building communitites, having common spaces, living things, mixed use, mixed income, etc.

There is a parallel in graphic design. When things get too fucked up out there, designers retreat into "classical" typesetting and/or "modernist" structure ... after all, no one will ever say that's bad work. It has safety, but relies too heavily on the past; shying away from possibility.

Personally, in architecture, I see this constant regurgitation of a manufactured lifestyle a kind of tragedy. Why would anyone want a picket fence anyway? They are such a pain in the ass. I've been asking for years, where are our robotic houses? What happened to the Jetson's dream? And why is furniture that was designed in the 1920s still considered cutting edge?

Where did the future go?
marian bantjes

Marian asks Why would anyone want a picket fence anyway?

I'm thinking of putting one up next year to keep the dogs off my lawn. Grass is hard to maintain!
Michael Surtees

I assume there are town rules, after you buy a home in Celebration can you take it down and build something else. If the town is not permitted to change thats creepy, not the original model it was built on. Can any resident open a dive bar or a 24 hour taco stand?

"...envisions a stay-at-home mother with no aspirations of her own."

That's pretty cheap rhetoric there, Miss Rep. At the risk of being off-topic, do you personally know any stay-at-home moms? I do. They include a neo-natal intensive care nurse, a pediatrician, and my wife -- a music educator. To link this challenging life-decision with a lack of aspirations is pathetic.

Where did the future go?

I believe Yori Berra has the answer for you, Marian: "The future isn't what it used to be."

The last era that tried to create the future gave us everything from Fuller's Dymaxion house (a fascinating concept, but much more homely than homey), and Le Corbusier's machine for living, which was much better in concept than cookie-cutter execution.

After decades of well-intended but frustrating social and urban experiments, people will look to the past for what seemed to work better. They may not always understand the context of what they find appealing, but it still seems better than what hasn't worked in their own experience. It's true that sometimes the appeal is just pure nostalgia, but sometimes it's based on the fact the the "future" ideal just did not work.

I agree with you, however, that there should be more ways to combine the best of the past with the knowledge of the present.

The long-term success of Celebration will ultimately depend on how much it draws on real lesson-learned from the past (including aesthetic ones), and how much it remains flexible to incorporate new ones. Ultimately, however, there will always be someone who has a different taste in style.
Daniel Green

Isn't it okay to look forward or retreat back? They're both valid in their own right. Not sure future-nostalgia is possible. By definition. But...I think retreating to the past and borrowing from it - whether your own or society's is, well in a word, okay. It's like Michael's story of the Tibor / Museum logo. Sometimes a typeface set IS a logo. It's okay. It's all good. It's what makes the world go 'round. Progressing AND retreating. Future and past. It is at this point I would like to quote...yes you guessed it 'The Byrds'. 'To everything turn...To embrace AND to refrain from embracing..."

Daniel: Huh?

I'm sorry, I don't understand your point. I don't personally have strong opinions about where mothers spend their time one way or the other. If you are counting, I have black friends too.

Are attempting to situate an argument that women in this country have exerted the social authority necessary to define roles for themselves throughout our history? Or can we agree that not having the right to vote for women or blacks perhaps attentuated their power?

Perhaps my point was mis-understood. I charge that New Urbanism appeals to people not because of its superior planning, but because it evokes a highly problematic and idealized notion of the past, and many of those who race towards it would also prefer to return to the simulacrum of that past without addressing the underlying social order that made it possible.
miss representation

Now, Steve... let's give proper credit. That's Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3.
Steve Mock

in the back of my head i'm thinking...isn't celebration the town were pink plastic flamingos started popping up in front lawns as a symbol of resistance to the too strict codes of what was allowed in front yards and what not?

Miss Rep--

Thank you for clearing that up. There clearly was a misunderstanding. I was not reading it as a commentary on the appeal of New Urbanism to some people, but as a commentary on a lifestyle choice. What confused me about your intentions was that the "biking for ice cream" line was a reference to vibranium's position, and your comments following it came across to me as a personal position on the lifestyle choice. I appreciate your clarification.
Daniel Green

Billy Graham once complimented Disney on his new park and said, "Walt, you have a great fantasy land here." Disney replied to Graham, saying, "You preachers get it all wrong. This is reality in here. Out there (the real world) is fantasy."

I suppose he meant that anything short of ideal is corrupt, dysfunctional and fake. Quite the turn of the tables.

More thoughts on the philosophy or "religion" of Disney are raised in this article,


One thread often seen in Disney films; "Goodness is often equated with beauty."

I wonder what the crime rates in Celebration are like compared to similiar less designed towns?
Ben Weeks

Sure, Celebration is creepy, but The Villages are worse. Located an hour north of Orlando, it's an age restricted city with its own golf cart tunnels and features "Historic Spanish Springs" which is made out of plaster and did not exist before I was born. In fact, an entire city just showed up while I was away at college. After about 15 years it encompasses parts of three counties (lots of bulldozed farm land). It's idealistic urban planning on steroids.

The odd thing is I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. And much of what Celebration tried to recreate, we actually had by way of involved community and strong zoning, something that evolved over 100+ years: a vibrant town of historical homes, an active shopping district that served both locals and tourists, strong public schools, beautiful parks and even a town logo (and yes, Mr. Bierut, towns do have logos, all of the towns in the western suburbs had logos if for nothing more than the car registration decals). We celebrated four major street festivals a year, one with an annual parade. Winter was welcomed with a house walk and carolers signing to shoppers as chestnuts were roasted by the local JayCees.
And you know what? Anyone that I brought to visit it from places outside of the region always thought it was creepy. The lawns too well taken care of. The setbacks too consistent. The downtown too clean. I used to joke it was like growing up in the 50s, I would ride my bike downtown to the 5 and dime to by model airplanes and things like this. Thing is, I was raised in the 1980s.
The town is overwhelming Catholic, and the more 75% of the student body lives with both their original birth parents.
So idealized or not, the world does exist like this without the master planning of Disney (although, it does require a strong sense of ideals and citizens engaged in the process of running the town).
I'm not sure how well it prepared me for the rest of the U.S., though. And how oddly fractured the world outside of my home town feels.

Perhaps I should have added that there were some things that I missed: racial diversity being tops among them (although, unfortunately, that's often true in many less ideal places in the U.S.) but I also got a really strong sense of place. Strong community ties that still keep me in touch with my hometown and the people that I grew up with, including teachers that I can still regularly drop in on. The city has expanded West and not with great results, but I will say that I was really amazed at the amount of people from my high school graduating class that moved away for college and decided to return home to raise their own families. I think that that is a big deal.

This Looking for Celebration discussion touches on our major challenge as Turtle Island peoples. How do harvest the ecological productivity of our home places to serve our needs? This assumes that oil and other exogenous exploited energy and material resources may further become the subject of intense and violent competition as they are now. As a planned walking city Celebrations sounds like it accomplishes what many cities don't. Like every place it is a combination of factors and elements. Daniel alludes to this when he speaks for the quality of social and physical life for women.

First Nations of the Americas and Florida considered the design dynamic in terms of interaction of the five elements: Energy (sun, fire etc), Air (wind), Water (rain, snow, grey-water etc), Soil (Composting) and Life (Human social, ecological, animal, plant etc). Living design is the key to animating the other four elements.

First Nations planned seven generations for Edible Orchards in combination with Field/Cereal crops around them, which produce ten times the quality and quantity of Field and Cereal cropping.

If we take a closer look at what 'creepy' means, it is largely about the exogenous (other produced) economies that give the illusion of plenty, but are really based in theft of resources from other usually 3rd world economies. Most of sense how 'unreal' suburban sprawl is.

While it is true that the past sometimes has some tried and tested methods or technologies, our colonial past is particularly bereft of life-function. Turning to the '~~~~~~~~~~' (derived from the Latin meaning 'Self-generating') Mound Cities of the Mississippi, Pueblo (Townhouse) Passive Solar design, Longhouse Apartment Social and Orchard Agriculture design can bring us to a whole range of Elemental Design that can add some real 'nuts and bolts' to this discussion.

Some other tools to desaggregate the components of Urban Design that get us beyond undefined nostalgia, are tools like Geographic Information System Green Mapping www.greenmap.org of homes and communities.

On a social economic level, is there a catalogue of human resources made for the citizens of Celebration and surrounding areas so that they can economically interact? Is there formal 'Caucusing' (Iroquois word means ('Grouping of Like-Interests') so that individuals can join with like-minds and resources in creative endeavours? Part of loneliness and disempowerment is about uninformed isolation.

Is there a Community Investment and exchange system so that critical mass of effort and interaction can be achieved? Is there a Community Service Register, to recognize and compensate citizen involvement?

Is there awareness and knowledge of the original Timucuan Peoples or other First Nations who lived in this region for tens of thousands of years? Sustainability Rooted in Heritage http://cbed.geog.mcgill.ca/WIP.html or www.nativemaps.org

Douglas Jack, ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ INDIGENE Elemental Design
Douglas Jack

The missing word from the text "Turning to the . . . "Indigenou_s" derived from the Latin meaning 'Self-generating'as well as can we become an indigenou_s people to our time and place again?

Douglas Jack
Douglas Jack

I confess I don't get all the worries about "creepy." So live somewhere else. Many people find the East Village creepy. (I live there, and I sometimes find it creepy.) But guess what: If you find it creepy in a bad way, you don't have to live there. Ain't life great?

Anyway, why not celebrate the likes of Celebration? Seaside and Celebration represent not the descent of the fascist hordes, but a new-ish kind of housing option. On what planet is this considered a not-nice thing? NewUrb developments add to the range of what's available. And the fact that places in New Urb developments routinely sell at a premium means that there's a lot of demand for this kind of housing that isn't currently being met. Translation: lots of people like what New Urbanism offers, and would choose to live this way if they could. Currently, many of them can't, simply because there isn't enough of it to go around.As far as I'm concerned, that's the only bad news.

A small story: Remember "The Truman Show"? Made fun of life in a picket-fence make-believe future-retro town? Actually filmed in Seaside? I talked to a few people who worked on the film. They told me -- in rather shamefaced if amiable tones -- that they all felt quite superior to the place when they arrived. Patooie, patooie, etc. But by the time they finished filming, they all realized that they'd enjoyed their time there.
Michael Blowhard

I'm not sure what's more spooky... finding out that places like this really exist, or that Michael did the graphic design!? I kinda' like spookiness though. This is far more B horror than Disney to me... Michael, you used to be a hero of mine when I was at art school - I guess I'd forgotten about you? But, BAM... you're back!
L Wood

Growing up in Germany and being interested in Germany's Nazi history I find it creepy that there are groups of people who like this uniformity and control of towns like Celebration. I know it's everybody's personal choice to live in a pure white neighborhood and have rules about how your garden has to look but it's creepy that people really like it and foster it. It just reminds me too much of Germany's past: building a perfect race. This perfect arian race will create perfect art and build a 1000 year long lasting empire. That was Hitler's plan. Disney's perfect world looks to me like it's in the same frame of mind.
Evamaria Judkins

"Growing up in Germany and being interested in Germany's Nazi history I find it creepy that there are groups of people who like this uniformity and control of towns like Celebration.

There are zoning laws everywhere you go. Some places are just more strict then others. You don't have to live there. I personally hate pink flamingos and wouldn't want to live next to someone with them in their yard, so such a rule might make me happy. But I think what you're forgetting is that the communities Celebration mimics are not uniform and are the exception to the rule. This is why there is such a high demand for them. People essentially want community and a small town feel. This is something missing in most American suburbs, so Celebration is very much evidence of diversity.

I know it's everybody's personal choice to live in a pure white neighborhood and have rules about how your garden has to look but it's creepy that people really like it and foster it.

There are no rules demanding the neighborhood be pure white. I would be interested to know what the genuine ethnic makeup of the place is. I doubt that immigrants or black people find it creepy when they visit a ghetto or an immigrant neighborhood and found large numbers of people who have the same ethnic makeup. Are Chinese-Americans creeped out when they visit China? But why is it that so many white people have this reaction to communities full of white people? Do you hate yourself or something? The US and many countries consist mostly of white people, do you object to their existence as well? Surely with more immigration and as more people move up economically, these places will be less and less white. Will you be happiest when all existence of them has been blotted out?

Haved you no humor?
Or am I missing yours?
David Sucher

The recurrent theme on this thread of "creepy" has some interesting implications. Douglas Jack's definition certainly deserves some consideration. Another way of defining "creepy" is a sense that something just isn't quite right. Anachronistic elements such as the old-fashioned standpipe water tank may contribute to this feeling. In other accusations, however, some benefit of the doubt can be given to Celebration's circumstances.

Whenever you build that much infrastructure in that short of time span, everything will inevitably have a clean, pristine uniformity that will strike some as "creepy". Celebration can't be faulted for that. It's the nature of the project. Perhaps a few more housing styles would have added to the diversity, but things would still have a uniform sheen. (Unless, of course, the designers had decided to include a faux dilapidated part of town. Now that would be creepy.)

If you want a lesson in creepy uniformity (and how NOT to design a community), try running into a late 19th or early 20th century mill town in North America that was never able to diversify its local economy. Back in the '70s, while taking a car tour around the Great Lakes, my family came across a mill town that was nothing but rows and rows of the exact same white box house, with very little personalization done to any single house. (The houses were probably built and owned by the mill.) The affect was not just creepy, but overwhelmingly dismal. Celebration, in contrast, looks like a breath of fresh air.

Michael --

In Pentagram Book Five, the write-up on this project states "The architects' hope is that residents of the new town will gather on sidewalks and porches to knit together the kind of close community that would be different to maintain on streets lined with spaced-out self absorbed ranch houses."

I'm sincerely curious as to how this is playing out. Has the design effectively influenced community behavior in that manner?
Daniel Green

For anyone curious about life in Celebration, I recommend two of the books linked in the article.

The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town by Andrew Ross is an account of the early days of Celebration by a professor of American Studies at New York University. Celebration, U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town is by two journalists for the New York Times, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who are married. In both books, the writers actually lived in the town and provide an inside look, and get beyond the simplified binary choices of utopian versus creepy.

In response to Daniel's question, Ross says

Some of the more skeptical residents saw the narrow lots and alleyways as simply an opportunity for the developer to maximize profits by squeezing more houses onto the block. But most accepted the principles of social interaction behind the design, praising the ease with which they could meet neighbors while parking at the rear, and hail passersby ata the front, thanks to small setbacks and porches. Without extensive backyards, children were obliged to mingle and play in the parks and public spaces...On the other hand, the long, punishing summer took its toll on Celebration's famous porch life, as did the Florida bugs. Some porch dwellers were unstoppable, and were renowned for doing the porch thing, greeting passersby as if it were a civic duty. But in most houses I found there was little porch activity or use...

The physical design of the town meant it was virtually impossible not to get to know your neighbors. Most Celebrationites reasily acknowledged their social lives had been altered appreciably by moving to the new community from places without sidewalks, where neighbors did not know each other's names, and mailbox meetings were the only social encounters...Dumbfounded at the small lot sizes, friends had warned Bob and Diane Kupchak, owners of a distinctive mansion on Arbor Circle: "It looks like you're going to have to talk to your neighbors."

The writers also comment that the residents in Celebration are, naturally, self-selecting, and presumably predisposed to like this sort of thing in the first place. So the issue of whether the man-made environment can transform human behavior is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question.
Michael Bierut

Maybe this is too late to add for the life of this thread, but as to the recurring use of "creepy" (it was given in the article to take it and do so) - isnt that just the expression of the "unheimlich" and Celebration is a celebration of that - the uncanny associated to this kind of project - and of course, some could really argue that IS therefore embodying the perfect American suburban/new urban community values!

It is a spaceship which like all Disney future oriented conceits, is not about the future at all, but cocooning.
Disney was a failure except in extreme control models of his own pioneering :theme parks and a certain type of animated movies. The "future" fetish was only that, it never worked, forgotten like EPCOT. And the planning never started forward with thinking about new progressive models of social inclusion, community ethics, etc.. but VISUALS, and corporate work ethic.

What is it about society control you don't want to know when Disney corporation is around?

As for "you don't have to live there if you don't want to", what is it about conservative positions that they always start defensively with that whole free will, greatest number. That is said about broadcast tv all the time, Conan O'Brien uses it whenever he bombs ("Remember folks, its free, you don't pay for this"). Broadcast tv, like society, is only APPEARING public and free - but it is clearly one of the most corporate, censored, controlled "free" media there is. So apply to housing now... Housing / new town concepts are discussed because the represent our society in terms of values we wish to cultivate - and where Celebration should be discussed more clearly is how Disney models of future always require subsidy - special state-provided tax breaks to the corporation (hey, another broadcast tv parallel...) and these are at the expense of... well, go figure.

As to the fact people who came to Celebration with prejudices got used to it after being there - that is the POINT of CLOSED COMMUNITIES - it is trying to be ideologically seamless, and does so by closing off all sorts of "unwanted" disturbances... you get comfortable after a while when things are filtered.

Celebration is a priviledging of the visual over real community, with an equally priviledged finance model, a priviledged community imagined, not an averge anything, and flawed therefore, like EPCOT et al, unable to represent any real future model for new anything, and just repeating old Disney axioms.

And yes... it remains creepy - but so what, look around.. there are creepier.

Does it change the discussion at all to talk about the roots of Celebration?

Walt Disney originally envisioned that EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow) would be a real community where people could benefit from the "new" technology available. He was specifically interested in transportation (from steam trains to the People Mover to the Monorail). Unfortunately, before EPCOT was built, Walt passed away.

So without Walt to explain his vision, EPCOT became the theme park of "tomorrow" that is always more than a few years behind. (I won't even touch on the corporate element.)

So the Disney Corporation remembers that Walt had this idea for a "planned" community but the focus changes to Disneyland's Main Street and Yesteryear. Rather than a look forward to an optimistic future, Celebration is a community that harkens back to a tomorrow that never was.

There's a difference between saying that Celebration was the brainchild of Wald Disney and saying that it was the brainchild of the Disney Corp.

Just my 2 cents...

Has anyone heard of the Destiny USA project in Syracuse, NY? Although it hasn't yet been set in stone, the project hopes to create an enclosed space that incorporates shopping, recreation, hospitality and entertainment. It plans to make the social experience a "perfect" one.

I visited Celebration, FL when I was young. Although I was too small and wrapped up in the vacation mindset to have any groundbreaking thoughts while there, I do remember being a little uncomfortable. The whole place was a little too vanilla--the epitome of a "perfect" suburb.

Disney may have wanted celebration to be the future of society. I on the other hand would never want to live there. Who wants to wake up every morning in their perfect bed in their perfect house on their perfect street. Isn't it the imperfections in life that makes it worth it to get up out of bed everyday? The imperfections in our communities inspire thought, emotion, creativity, imagination, etc etc. If all communities became models of perfection, would society lose their ability to find inspiration?

I, personally, have never been to, or through, Celebration, so I can not therefore side either way with the comments on this place being 'creepy' or 'fake' or even 'staged', however, it appears to me that if people are still inhabiting the area 10 years down the line, surely this shows that not everybody shares this view and some people do actually wish to live there. After all, if there hadn't have been a call in the market, it surely wouldn't have been constructed in the first place?

In the same respect though, I can not help but invisage, whilst reading through the article and subsequent comments, a long road with identical parallel houses and gardens with a young child riding along the middle of the empty road with a flag on the back of the bike, just as can be seen in many children-orientated sitcom series'. This is probably due mainly to the fact that all of the reviews I have come across, not only from the comments apparent on this page, are generally negative. These reviews are also all common in the same respect that they seem to be comparing Celebration to a theme park, or a tourist attraction.

After discovering and reading so much about Celebration as I have, it has not really settled any clear views in my mind on the place, as I have not seen it for myself. If anything it has just made me more curious about . After all, how can a place that appears to be so clearly opposed and criticised still remain a successful venture 10 years on?
Nicola Friel

those on this thread who are surprised or appalled at the fact that people grow up in suburbia express for me a sort of reverse-provincialism. not everyone finds urban living to their liking. witness the emptying of white-ethnic neighborhoods in new york city: those who can assimilate culturally and economically move to jersey or westchester county or connecticut.

west coast cities such as la, seattle, san francisco, and vancouver, b.c. demonstrate how the suburban becomes urban, cosmopolitan even. in seattle, as downtown living became a prime lifestyle choice in the 90s, more and more 'ethnics' and immigrants were priced out of living within seattle and took residence in suburban areas. certain urban areas of seattle became more white than outlying suburban areas. local strip malls close to my parents' home in south king county offer pho, pad thai, curry, and hum bow. richmond, b.c., a suburb of vancouver, has become a diverse mix of people from varous asian countries. and in the last 25 years, los angeles, a city of suburban towns, strip malls, and little green lawns, has become a defacto third world capital.

of course, im not really talking about master-planned communities on the level of celebration, florida. but i did visit a relatives house in a fairly new master planned community in snoqualmie, washington (home of twin peaks). theres a range of economic levels (there are one bedrooms within apartment complexes as well as standalone mansions) and the accessibility to both the city of seattle and the cascade mountains (twenty minutes to either, by car of course) was quite pleasing. it isnt manhattan, but neither do people restrict their lives to a two mile radius.

claiming that these places are 'creepy' is similar to saying all people in the east village are drug addicts. dont get me wrong, i love living in new york (or brooklyn rather), but i can understand that someone might not want to spend the rest of their life in a closet-sized apartment in what in former times were referred to as 'tenement housing'.

Walt Disney is a designer of 'Celebration', he has designed something that is a fantasy, people like living in the 'happy' world, and he has created this, but is this a good idea to have in the era we are living today? Shouldn't designers relate their work to reality somehow even if it is illusional? I have no problem in designers making their own towns, with their own imagination, but when people go and visit 'Celebration' they have found it 'creepy', we can see the that it is only for show and not a place to live, but we shouldn't take it to seriously as its not reality, and just take it for amusement and fun.

New urbanism is a great way of designing for people to come together and become a community, its great for designers and architects to make their own little town and see people in the design they have produced. With Disney's 'Celebration' town it is a fantasy that he has created, and although it has been ten years, this fantasy will die out soon, but the name will still remain known.

Something for designers to think about, instead of creating fantasy for people to live in the fake world how about creating and making peoples lives so much better for people that are deprived, such as in third world countries and now that natural disasters are occurring, how about designing something that is built to last. There are two ways of creating new urbanism, one is creating the designers fantasy and the other is fulfilling the people that want and need a community most, why not combine it? People make their own world to hide the bad things going on in their lives, I think its time for designers to show reality in any sort of art form, we need to keep fantasy away for sometime so that reality can be checked out.

sharmila rahman

The design of Celebration seems linear, the fact that planners Robert A. M. Stern and Jaquelin Roberson were unable to think outside of the box and be more radical towards creativity makes this town seem fake and too pleasant to live in.

I have never visited celebration but to me it has been described as a perfect little town where you are supplied with all the essentials for a happy life without going too far; a bank, a post office, a movie theatre, you wouldn't rely on public transport or cars to visit new places as everything would be in walking distance and people would never leave this fantasy world to step outside into the real world and experience life, quite sad really!

These designers should be able to express more ideas and be non-linear to the subject of design, they should put ideas forward and be more creative, and yes Sharmila designers should relate their work to reality.

To have houses that form a pattern and look like a uniform is "creepy." There is no identity if colours, houses etc look the same. The whole idea is too unrealistic and fake for the twentieth century; it displays the "American dream" but there are far too many economical and political problems for people to be dealing with rather then hiding in places like this. Its natural for children to want to live and play in this fantasy town as their minds have not yet developed but its nonsense for adults as they need to be aware of the real world and cannot rely on what's provided for them in this town, but luckily enough this town is only a show piece!

Why go back in time to create this town? Why not look into the future as we are moving forward, it seems pointless to go back in time. I agree with Martin B "Interesting and exciting architectural concepts are unusual things that have never been done before." This is what the planners of design should have taken to account before approaching their designers and architectures.

I also agree with Sharmila about taking into consideration those who are less fortunate before designing meaningless towns which have no real value. Its not as if people are going to live in this town or make use of it, this is a show piece that took millions to make when this money could have gone towards far more beneficial things for those in need.
Bhupinder Ran

Looking for Principles

What places like Celebration, Seaside and even Berkeley, CA tend to expose is how easily their socially progressive founders, designers and inhabitants are willing to part with their principles when it comes to fabricating their own environments. This is the twenty-first century and Victorian, Colonial, Modern and Mediterranean are completely besides the point; it's not good design when broad swathes of society are omitted from the program. Walking to work down-town may be quaint and green but you can rest assured that's not the case for the crews and staff keeping Pleasantville safe, sanitary and squeaky clean.

New Urbanism is an unfortunate oxymoron for it is not "new" or "urban" and in fact , by design, completely contradicts those definitions.
Michael Nicolson

Jobs | July 23