Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Often Imitated, Never Duplicated

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, then Celebration must be among the most admired towns in America (and, ironically, one one of the most ridiculed).

Developments with names like Reunion and Harmony are cropping up like St. Augustine grass in the Kissimmee/Orlando area. They purport to have resort facilities without sacrificing that small-town feel. They're a heart-warming place to come home to, where community and family values reign supreme. In other words, their unspoken mantra is: "Hey, we're just like Celebration!"

Ironically, Celebration itself is not a new concept, nor is it like what most people think. Many people erroneously believe that it's the manifestation of Walt Disney's "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow." But that was a futuristic city with cars hidden below the ground and a weather-controlling dome overhead. In Walt's vision, people wouldn't even own their homes. Everyone would be a renter, and unemployed people would not be allowed to live there. So much for putting down roots and encouraging a diverse socioeconomic mix.

Celebration bears no resemblance to the original conception of EPCOT. It is simply a real-life version of an idealized small town married to some of the concepts of new Urbanism. Many people confuse it with Seaside, the coastal town where "The Truman Show" was filmed. But Seaside is an ultra-affluent vacation community, where the homeowners
visit a week or two out of the year. Celebration is merely affluent and has more year-round residents than Seaside. In fact, it's very different from most Disney-area resort towns, including many of its imitators, which are built for snowbirds in the winter vacation renters in the summer. It's ironic that Seaside is older than Celebration and had a starring role on the big screen, yet the Disney upstart stole its thunder.

We're viewed as a town where control has run amok, yet our rules are no more restrictive than your typical planned community. Actually, we're probably worse than many. For example, as of this writing, one of our current neighborhood controversies centers on a family that allows their dog and naked baby to swim in one of the community pools. That's definitely more like trailer park hijinks than what you would expect for a rich, Gestapo-run enclave.

Other communities imitate what they perceive Celebration to be, not what we really are. Perhaps the reality is too boring. After all, in the Playboy short story, "Jubilation," the author had to toss in a fatal gator attack on the downtown lake and a hurricane to destroy the town. Oh well, I guess it takes a lot of excitement to complete with a nude centerfold.

But in reality, we're just a bunch of people living in a town that happens to be on former Disney property. Our homes are pretty conventional, not modern marvels straight from the last scene of "Carousel of Progress" where we converse with our appliances. We don't zip along on underground roads; we take the shortcuts and "secret" back roads when possible, or else we sit in the inevitable traffic jams along with everyone else. Sometimes we let our lawns get too shabby or the paint on our houses fade, and maybe we even leave dog poop in the parks.

But I still find it fascinating that the legend persists. It's fun living in the town that other towns strive to be. They can build all the imitators they want, but Celebration will forever be the original and the one that goes down in history.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

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