“The most exciting and by far the most important part of our Florida Project—in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World—will be our Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow! We call it EPCOT.” – Walt Disney
One of the last projects overseen by Walt Disney before his death on December 15, 1966 was probably the one he was most passionate about; I am, of course, talking about Walt Disney’s original Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—epcot, for short. Though you can see glimpses of Walt’s original concept within today’s Epcot, it is not the self-sufficient community of tomorrow he once envisioned, but that doesn’t mean a version of it doesn’t exist…
It may not be the flawless utopia laid out by Walt in the 60s, but Celebration, Florida is the closest thing possible. In the early 1990s, the Walt Disney Company decided to take some of the core concepts from EPCOT’S original design and make them a reality with the construction of the Walt Disney World Resort’s first residential community, naming it “Celebration.”
The idea was simple: according to Walt Disney, EPCOT was to be a “planned environment demonstrating to the world what American communities can accomplish through proper control of planning and design.” And Celebration does just that. (For more information on Walt’s original concept for EPCOT, be sure to check out “The Evolution of Epcot” article featured in this issue.)
THE MASTER PLAN FOR DISNEY’S AMERICAN UTOPIA
Celebration is a CDP (census-designated place) spanning nearly eleven square miles, and located on Walt Disney World Resort property in Osceola County. But it’s not just on the outskirts—oh no—it right in the center of the magic with World Drive, one of the town’s main streets, leading just outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. It is a planned community, meaning that unlike other cities that evolve and expand organically over time, every aspect of the town/city has been meticulously planned, generally built at once on undeveloped land so that planners can have a blank canvas.
During Michael Eisner’s reign as CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 1984 to 2005, some serious moves were made across the company. Determined to leave a lasting and impactful legacy, he was responsible for numerous WDW expansions, including the opening of two entirely new parks (Disney-mgm Studios in 1989 and Animal Kingdom in 1998), completely rebranding the marketplace area to Downtown Disney in 1997, and the creation of Disney’s first residential community—inspired by Walt’s original vision for the Florida resort—in the early 1990s.
Eisner took a special interest in the project during its developmental phase; determined to make history, he told Imagineers to do just that, “make history” by coming up with a place worthy of the Walt Disney name. The goal was to develop a community that would be as close to Walt’s version of EPCOT as possible within the parameters of modern America.
The main reason for Walt Disney wanting to create an entirely new “Disney World” was to be able to have total control over the environment and surroundings (Unlike Disneyland in California), so Disney petitioned the Florida State Legislature to get municipal jurisdiction over the forty square miles of land purchased for the Florida Project. After being granted, The Walt Disney Company had almost complete control over the construction and governance of the entire area, gaining the official name, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Celebration makes up 10.7 square miles within the southern part of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Being a residential village, it falls into the category of a “Community Development District” (CDD) under Florida state law. Which gives the governing power to a board of five supervisors who’re elected by the landowners (a majority of the land is owned by The Walt Disney Company, keeping them in control), who have authority over the district’s assessments and taxes to pay for the maintenance, construction, and operation of certain public services.
Facilities And Services Run By Celebration:
• Bridges and culverts
• Conservation areas, parks, and recreational facilities
• Environmental contamination management
• Fire department
• Mosquito control
• Public transportation and parking
• Roads and street lights
• School buildings and facilities
• Waste management
• Water management: water supply, sewerage, and wastewater control
• WDW Security (but no police power)
So, in a nutshell—a CDD is a small local government that’s financed and managed by its residents; although a CDD is able to adopt by-laws and establish its own set of rules and regulations, it must follow state laws. A majority of the land is owned by The Walt Disney Company; therefore, Disney maintains control over the entire city of Celebration.
THE VILLAGES OF CELEBRATION
The different areas and neighborhoods of Celebration are separated into districts, which they refer to as “villages.” The main village of Celebration is called Celebration Village, which is closest to its downtown area and was the first residential neighborhood to be built in the summer of 1996. Celebration Village was accompanied by West Village and Lake Evalyn. Then later Celebration saw the addition of North, South, and East Villages, followed by Aquila Reserve, and finishes off with Artisan Park, which sits at the end of Celebration Avenue and includes a clubhouse, gym, and pool for Celebration residents to enjoy.
Just like with Main Street, U.S.A., the main street and downtown area for Celebration was designed to give off that small town Americana look, with traditional early 20th century architecture. The residential areas are meant to look like nothing less than perfection, very classic and clean—complete with white picket fences. Visitors of Celebration often compare it to that of Stepford. (And that’s not too far off!). The extreme planning and desire to create the ultimate utopian community led to Celebration being named the 2001 “New Community of the Year” by the Urban Land Institute.
According to the 2015-2016 census, the total population of Celebration is 7,427 people, with 2,848 occupied homes—about 70% of which are families. The median household income is $75,000+, with the median resident age being 40 years old. 91% of the residents work outside of their homes at drive to work.
It’s no surprise that the median income is $30,000 more than the state average; the price of residences in Celebration is no cheap date! Apartments start at around $165,000, townhouses at $282,000, and detached homes at $508,000… And it those are just the starting prices! I did some research on a realty website and was hard-pressed to find anything under $800,000 currently for sale. But they were beautiful homes!
EVERYDAY LIFE IN CELEBRATION
The residents of Celebration can head to the downtown area, Town Center, for all of their shopping and culinary needs, as it is made up of restaurants and shops, in addition to 106 residences. There are over five hundred companies currently residing within the district. Celebration contains six Christian churches and one Jewish temple. There is also a community center, where residents can partake in free activities and classes through a variety of clubs.
The schools are operated by the Osceola County public school system and include both a K-8 public grade school and Celebration [Public] High School for grades 9-12. There is also a private Montessori school in Celebration serving grades K-8, as well as the Celebration Campus of Stetson University.
Celebration encourages community togetherness by hosting a number of town events throughout the year, including art shows, Oktoberfest, The Food Network’s Great American Pie Festival, an annual exotic car show, their signature Posh Pooch Festival, an impressive 4th of July Celebration (including quite the fireworks display!), and seasonal events during the fall through the holidays (they actually release snow into the Town Center skies around Christmas time!).
Celebration may not be the utopian Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow once imagined by Walt Disney, but it has proven to be a close second. No, it is not contained within a giant climate-controlled snow globe, but it does go to show that extensive planning and control isn’t such a bad thing, in fact, it looks pretty darn good!