New Urbanism – An Experience inside the town of Celebration, Florida

13 01 2008

I’m spending a couple of weeks with my family and the Mowry clan in Kissimmee, FL and Stephen, my business partner, and I were looking for a coffee shop to work from on Friday away from the barrage of plastic, flashy gift shops and flavorless food chains that dominate most of Kissimmee’s commercial strip. Mindlessly following our Iphone directions we landed in a beautifully planned community with an early 20th century feel we thought was perhaps old downtown Kissimmee.

The next day I took my family back to the town and we got lost (literally) weaving through the neighborhoods and countless parks. No doubt this place was carefully planned from the ground up and the way its various “villages” were planned (rectangular cul-de-sacs with common areas for every 10 single family homes mixed with nearby matching apartment buildings, condos and town houses with a clear central club house, community pool and recreational facilities) really fit with a philosophy of urban planning I’ve been interested with for sometime called new urbanism.

When we returned to our rental home I began to do some research and discovered we were not, in fact, in Kissimmee but in a town called Celebration. The town of Celebration was the brain child of the Walt Disney Corporation and an outgrowth of Disney’s EPCOT dream (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) and required an estimated 2.5 billion dollars of investment.

Taking a quick step back, most people think of Urban planning and development as a highly specialized field (if they think of it at all) and totally underestimate how this factor, in so many ways, dictates the culture in which we live. For most of human existence we were forced to live in small tight communities needing to keep all things necessary for life (food supplies, religious gatherings, employment, education etc.) within walking distance. This gave rise to a particular culture involving a clear town center where, ideas are exchanged, cooperation is encouraged and individuals and families are deeply known by a long standing reputation.

Then a decision was subtly (and mindlessly) made that decimated the urban landscape with an incalculable and unimaginable series of consequences we have only begun to experience. We decided, beginning in the 40s and 50s, to plan new communities around the needs and capacities of the automobile instead of the needs of human beings. This choice, more than any decision of our century, has done more to destroy modern western culture (replacing interdependent community living with hyper-individualism) and our only hope for recovery is to choose to intentionally design communities around a totally different philosophy.

OK, back to the town of Celebration. Even if you don’t find the communitycelebration.jpg especially appealing it was clearly planned with the people in mind. Celebration contains so many miles of trails into deep woods that I disturbed a sleeping family of wild boars during our meandering hike. We heard live music playing in one community space as the villagers gathered for an evening meal. After spending only 2 afternoons there I saw several people for the second time and, due to this growing familiarity, was tempted to actual start a conversation with these complete strangers (and for an introvert like me you know that’s saying a lot).

All this to say I’d like to let you in on a little dream of mine. That someday, when my urban philosophy has matured and my resources have multiplied, I, along with a group of like-minded families, would like to architect a village designed to help humans flourish (instead of multi-national oil corporations). But its going to take a bit of introspective questioning on all our parts. Perhaps you can start by asking yourself a few questions like –

Why did you choose to live in your community?
Do you frequent a clear town center with other members of your community?
Do you know the philosophy that dictates the plans of your city?
Do you get involved in city elections and proposals?
Are you adding to the culture of your community through your lifestyle or contributing to its disintegration?

Recommended reading – The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

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6 responses

21 01 2008
Gavin

I like this post. We’re thinking about these very issues as we evaluate living situations and our role in the Church.

22 06 2008
Sharon McMillan

My suburb saw the light about 30 years ago and as new urbanism principals became more apparent, the town adopted these principals. We are a very functional new urbanism with a strong focus on green living and widespread engagement. We have new developments built according to NU guidelines and very old communities that have been “protected” and transformed to serve as gathering and cultural centers for all.

We chose to return to this community because of the way the residents (more than 200K) have bought into and embraced new urbanism. We are fast growing community that would be facing far worse challenges (than we’re currently facing) were it not for NU. We are now managing our growth in ways that are in sync with the natural environment and in keeping with our pursuit for improved quality of life and access for all.

23 06 2008
eden2zion

Hi Sharon,

It’s great to hear success stories like yours. I love your New Urban Mom website by the way. This issue continues to be of greater concern to me and I believe the NU movement has the best answers I’ve yet seen to the challenges of making our communities livable again.

28 10 2010
Gear Knobs :

when i go to a gift shop, i always look for cute little stuffed animals and other cute stuffs*:*

21 11 2010
Perseus

lol i live in celebration well not right now but my family own a house there its one of those mansions you find by south village great community to live in one thing i dont like is people who aren’t from celebration tht live in kissimme look at us like we are rich for example my freshman year in celebration high school kids from kissimme found out i lived in celebration and where like “omg do u live in a mansion, can i be your friend etc.” but even though i do hav money because my dads a movie producer an all and the fact tht my dad bought me a phantom to drive to school in doesn’t help people stop saying things like tht thing is people in celebration are nice a-lot of kids i went to school on where all ghetto and well manners was a no-go for them respect none but im not saying all of them just a-lot of them

6 12 2010
Apalled

See above for a perfect example of who social change is desperately necessary for the continuation of the pursuit of a better existence. No one cares about how rich your dad is, dude. I suggest you find a way to learn that money means very little positive in the grand scheme of a quality life, and that regardless of whether or not you do, in fact, have a “phantom”, you still have to make an impact. I hope you discern a way to make it a positive one. Oh, and please go speak with your English instructor. Your writing makes my eyes hurt.

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