Dis­ney His­tory

WDW Magazine - - Content - BY COURTNEY VIC­TOR RUSS

“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.)


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 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!


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!

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