Celebration






Celebration, Florida represents an interesting late 20th century interpretation of utopian life. Although it deviates ideologically in several important ways from many of the 18th and 19th century American utopian communities, its classification as a uto pian community is assured because it definitively fits the model established by the Puritans. Like the other utopian communities, Celebration is marked by both proactive and reactive sentiments. Although it considers itself to be a model community, a ma jor part of its appeal to its residents is the protection it offers from the less attractive forces at work in late 20th century public life.

Celebration was incorporated in 1995 by the Walt Disney Company. While the company has taken the place of the authoritarian figures who held sway over earlier American utopian communities, it is important to note that Celebration was originally the conce ption of Walt Disney himself in the 1960's, and still bears the distinctive marks of his ideology. He even suggested that the community should be "built from scratch on virgin land".

Walt Disney planned that the utopian community that the Disney Company would build would be futuristic, and that it would be called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This, of course, evolved away from the utopian community model into what we now know as the EPCOT center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, another entertainment-oriented part of the theme park. Like the strict rules that are part of life in Celebration, Walt Disney intended that his EPCOT would be strictly ordered, to the poi nt that no retirees would be allowed to live there, and no one would be allowed to own property.

Celebration, however, was intended to be a different sort of model of the future. While Walt Disney combined the idea of utopia with futurism, the Disney Development Company has harkened back to the past. Their literature boasts that: "Celebration takes the best of what made small towns great in our past and adds a vision of the future. Like other utopian communities, they are both looking back to what they believe to be a simpler and therefore inherently better past, and incorporating it to fit their future needs. And ironically, in basing their architectural designs in part on the old Orlando communities that were destroyed by the expansion of Disney World, they are seeking to recreate what they themselves destroyed, a destruction that is elemental in what makes They are reacting against what they themselves did to the society that now makes it undesirable for Celebration's residents.

Although Celebration does not rely on a Covenant with God, the way that the Shakers and the Oneidans centered their lives, or a Covenant of works that organized New Harmony, its residents have signed a covenant of another kind. In order to become a reside nt of Celebration, it is necessary to sign a "Declaration of Covenants", which removes, almost entirely, the power of both the citizens of Celebration and their homeowners association and places it in the hands of the majority property holder, which happe ns to be the Walt Disney company. Celebration doesn't even have a mayor- the town hall is owned by Disney and the town seal is trademarked.

But the Covenant that the homeowners have made with Disney stretches considerably beyond this public governmental realm and into the control of their personal lives, just as the Covenants that the other communities entered into with God or one another cre ated specific rules that governed their lives. For example, the Declaration of Covenants states that no more than two people can sleep in any one bedroom. Any dog or cat that is felt to be a nuisance can be removed from its owners. Each family may onl y hold one garage sale per year, no boats or mobile homes can be parked in front of a house, and only one campaign poster is allowed to be displayed during an election season, and that for only forty-five days.

Homeowners have to follow very specific guidelines about what kind of plants and shrubs may be planted in their yards, each house has to be built within a prescribed number of feet from the street and in one of six carefully selected styles. Fences can o nly reach a certain height so that yards are visible from the street. Any changes to be made to the exterior of the houses must first be cleared with a committee.

All of this social and architectural engineering is supposed to foster a sense of communal living which the thousands of people who have already moved to Celebration felt was lacking in other American communities. And the Walt Disney Company believes th at their community is fulfilling a special purpose through the covenants of its residents. They have written that "Celebration is designed to become an international prototype for communities".

Like earlier utopian communities, Disney has separated Celebration from society so that it might better provide this example. Although it is not as completely self-contained as societies like the Mormo ns were to begin with, Celebration has started its own school system, along with an Institute to train the teachers for the school. It also boasts its own hospital and an extensive intranet system which links all the homes and businesses in the commun ity.

Celebration has separated itself physically and to some degree economically as well. Prices range from 20 to 30 percent higher than they do at other comparable developments, and the average starting cost for the lower end housing is about $160,000. Disn ey did make initial efforts to attract a racially and ethnically diverse group of home buyers.

Briefly, Celebration has all the markings of a utopian community. From authoritarian leadership, a strictly imposed set of rules that govern almost every aspect of life, a set of Covenants, communal living, separation form the outside world and a sense o f itself as possessing a symbolic responsibility to provide an example for the rest of the world, Celebration fits nicely into the model established by the Puritans in the 18th century. But there is one important difference. Unlike the other communities, the residents of Celebration are not united in their work in creating the community through which they will achieve the earthly or heavenly perfection that the others craved. They have simply purchased it.