Blowhard, Esq. writes:
During my Christmas vacation in central Florida I made an impromptu stop in Celebration, Florida, the Disney-designed town located outside Orlando near Disney World. Having never seen a New Urbanist-inspired town like this in person, I was eager to take a look around. I did no research before arriving and spent maybe 90 minutes total there, so take all of my uninformed observations with a grain of salt.
I’ve always admired the posters and graphic design at Disneyland, and I liked the signage here too.
All of the buildings above were at major intersections. The smaller businesses have modest, unobtrusive signage like in Santa Barbara, CA.
A downtown apartment building.
A fancier apartment complex located among single-family homes in the residential area.
Ponds and lakes abound in swampy Florida. They’re everywhere. Downtown is built around one.
Lots of streams and rivers in the state too, which the designers also integrated nicely into the city. Or maybe I should say the city was integrated nicely into them.
A rounded, inviting park entrance.
While reading the Wikipedia entry, I was surprised to learn that a number of major architects — including Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, Robert A.M. Stern, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown — all contributed buildings to the town. I guess their participation gave the project some cred and was perhaps an attempt to head-off the inevitable kitsch criticism. Below is the Streamline Moderne-by-way-of-postmodernism movie theater designed by Cesar Pelli. It looked like it was out of business.
After wandering around downtown, I headed down Celebration Ave. to check out the homes. I was impressed by their visual appeal. The dominant styles seemed to be Colonial, Victorian, and Plantation. The architects really like dormer windows, don’t they?
Alleys between houses, a New Urbanist revival if I recall correctly, are prominently featured.
A few of the homes on the main drag were noticeably empty.
A few shots of the sidewalks. The streets are designed to protect pedestrians: one narrow lane of traffic each way and parallel parking on the street to create a buffer between moving cars and pedestrians. Cars are limited to 25 mph in the residential area. Parking lots are located behind, not in front of, any buildings. Tree-lined streets. All of these elements make for a pleasant, relaxed stroll.
You can never have too many trees.
So what’s my final verdict: creepy Stepford city or traditionalist triumph? A little bit of the former and a lot of the latter. I was there on a Tuesday afternoon but, as the pictures show, the town seemed underpopulated. The lack of bustle and too-scrubbed cleanliness gave it the air of a film set. Everything has that slightly oppressive (or perhaps largely oppressive, depending on who you are) family fun wholesomeness that the Mouse is known for. I’m sure the covenants, conditions, and restrictions that homeowners must agree to make the average HOA look like libertarian seasteaders. There is no bohemian quarter and no doubt the ethnic restaurants are inauthentic cultural appropriators. Looked at from this angle, I can see why a lot of people won’t like it.
But, on the other hand, the fact that it’s not perfect is hardly much of a criticism. Celebration is a huge improvement over the average suburban development. What it lacks in organic funkiness it makes up in other ways: prioritizing people over cars, it’s human scaled, extremely walkable, has a well-defined commercial core, and contains lots of pleasing, varying details. It has the charm and coziness that so many other listlessly efficient suburban neighborhoods ignore. In my ideal world zoning codes across the country would be rewritten to emphasize its best traits.
- This dude says that Celebration is more of a “neo-traditional” town than a New Urbanist one.
- Paleo Retiree wonders if Solvang’s kitsch is really the worst thing in the world and takes a look at Nevada City.
- I tour some pre-WWII suburban neighborhoods in Orange County and downtown L.A.’s Art Deco collection.
- David Sucher’s City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village is a great introduction to traditional neighborhoods. You can get it on your Kindle for under $5.