A walk through Celebration, Florida

Celebration, Florida is the new urbanist’s dream. It’s like walking through the pages of a Christopher Alexander book on the theory of places and space. 

There are towers, lots of them ... 





and clocks, lots of them ... 




and a village square ...





and roads that curve with white pickets fences ...





and porches ... 



and a post office ...

and cafes ...




and everything you’d ever dream could happen in a little village in New England, or perhaps Europe. The only difference being that nothing existed here 20 years ago and this isn’t New England, nor is it Europe. And Disney developed this place.

Actually, it really isn’t that bad, for what it’s trying to do. And given the scale of the dreck that is spread more generally across the Florida landscape, its walkability is worth celebrating. Still, if you’ve ever read any theory about new urbanism, there is an aspect of “cut and paste” to everything. It’s the poster child for Alexander’s archetypes and Allan Jacobs Great Streets, and it points to the strength and the weakness of the theory (and the theoreticians). 

Even at at this low-intensity scale, the challenging interrelationships of street to building, open space to built environment, pedestrian to cars, residential to retail are deftly addressed. In that sense, Celebration is confirmation that the theory of new urbanism works in practice. The attention to detail is impressive. 17th century building styles (think Concord, Massachusetts or Savannah, Georgia) really do work at a human scale. 

In this, its creators are to be commended. Celebration is battling against the land use practices of the past century by offering a credible alternative. To that end, it succeeds. It’s not even terribly racially segregated. 

Still, the proxy for my critique is best phrased by a friend, “It looks like a 1950s movie set. The Stepford Wives perhaps.” Yes, exactly.


It’s pastiche. It’s faux. It’s ersatz. It’s plastic. It’s a myth about urbanism that we desperately hang on to. It's a myth that is both true and false at the same time. Maybe all urbanism shares this complaint, but it’s particularly stark in Celebration.  By way of example, there are no poor people in Celebration, anywhere. A development model cannot stop at the land use plan or at the urban design detail. It must encompass society in all its permutations, not just in those that remind us of something we think we want to see. Cohabitation is more than that but Celebration isn't.






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