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Celebration: a new model for community development

By Perry Reader - posted Tuesday, 15 May 2001

At the Disney organisation we are about entertaining people. It's about story-telling. The essence of the Walt Disney company is the ability to tell stories through movies and theme parks. The stories of birth, death, graduation, being together on Saturday night - these are the memories that we all relate to.

We had a piece of property in Florida and we decided to create a new idea about development using our knowledge about how people react. We were talking about a green field that had no story - it was a cattle pasture. The site for Celebration is in the south-west corner of Orlando, near Walt Disney World Resort.

We created the town centre around a lake. We made a decision that the town centre was essential to what the community related to. It was their downtown. It had to be protected. It was a question of: what do you put in downtown? Post office, schools, there were health needs, office needs - people's definition of where stories were told.


We assembled a powerful team of people. We studied great communities, including towns that had been there for years and years, the relationships between physical designs and the social activities that went on in those towns. We modelled those entire towns and created a pattern book in three dimensions. Studied the interactions of the various uses in the downtown area. We talked about why a particular street had a particular name. Each neighbourhood was given a real heart and a real soul.

We found architecture that people related to. It came mainly from the 1940s. But still built a product that most of the people in the community could afford. We studied the relationship between the front of the house and the street. How far the house should be set back from the street. In order to create community every building, every home, must have a gift to the street. Hence the demand for porches. The front porch adds to the sense of community feeling.

We created four different types of houses, apartments, school, theatre, town hall. Today the community has 4,000 residents and 3,000 jobs, eventually 12,000 residents and 13,000 jobs.

Everything we did had to have a sense of place; it needed to create a sense of community; there was a focus on education (such a critical aspect which cuts over all ages); a focus on health; and a focus on technology.

In terms of creating a sense of community, we had to start some events - which included a "founders day", fundraising events, festivals and parades.

The town centre is where people meet. We believe a post office is a sign of community. A Town Hall to create a sense of public responsibility. The essential interaction for people when going to the bank - part of the story-telling. Doctors offices and other services that the community needed. Churches - when you talk about story-telling, there's no greater story than marriage, driving by a church and seeing a wedding going on. Civic organisations and social clubs. Recreational facilities - the swimming pool is another opportunity for people to interact. Community buildings.


Normally, developers don't get involved in education. We said that our school needed to be inside the community, it needed to be a walkable school. We created an area within the school which put a lot of children together of different age groups, learning together - it was like the living room of the neighbourhood.

We recognised we are in a high-technology age but we also realised people are struggling to re-discover their sense of community. Someone working on a laptop on the front porch is a way of doing that. We created a community with its own network. We put in infrastructure ahead of its time. We have computers in 95% of the homes. We have electronic town meetings. Community cable communications.

There has to be in the public realm things you can control, things that aren't bolted down. So we put 24 rocking chairs that are adjustable on the edge of the community lake.

Sense of place: we created spaces in the front of homes where people could feel safe. There's a building with a tower that people can relate to no matter where they are in the town. There's a hotel downtown and the movie theatre is a building that creates a bit of excitement even before the movie starts.

Great communities have great employers. Many employees in Celebration work at home because of the community Internet - and that's cheaper for the employers.

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This is an edited version of a speech given to the Cities For The New Economy Leadership Summit at the Marriott Hotel, Surfers Paradise, 23-24 April 2001.

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About the Author

Perry Reader is from the Walt Disney organisation, which built the Town of Celebration in Florida, USA.

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