|PIA News - May, 1998|
CELEBRATION: Disney's Experiment in New Urbanism
|by E. Crichton Singleton, FAIA|
I flew out of Orlando just ahead of the March tornadoes that devastated Kissimmee and the southern suburbs of this tourist mecca, after a weekend of discussions centered on the new town of Celebration and how the Disney Company addressed the phenomenon of urban development at the end of the 20th century in this new community. The AIA brought together some of the nation's leading thinkers and practitioners of urban design to debate the pros and cons of this town. The question for our conference was whether Celebration represented a triumph of New Urbanism or if its star-studded array of some of the country's best designers simply created another Disney stage set.
Built on some 4,900 acres surrounded by a 4,700 acre greenbelt south of Disney World at the suburban fringe of Orlando, Celebration does some wonderful things. But there are several decisions that are questionable within the precepts of New Urbanism to which the town's architecture purportedly subscribes. For instance, rather than responding to the reduced need for cars, most Celebration garages accommodate two or three cars. And rather than place the health center within the quarter-mile walking radius of the town center, it is located beyond the golf course and freeway, too distant for pedestrian access. The town's office center is there, too, and its architect, Aldo Rossi, known for his dreamlike images, has created a formal, frigid composition that is the antithesis of New Urbanism's preference for friendly, traditional architecture. Finally, although there are affordable home in Celebration, the average sales price is around $275,000, making this clearly an economically as well as geographically segregated enclave.
Inner Cities and New Urbanism
And the answer is...
For my part, they are not mutually exclusive, but convincing the development community that New Urbanism will pay off for them when their customers wait in line for their standard, suburban product and convincing the big money sources that their suburban investments can do as well or better in the inner city is a major challenge. Some signs, however, are present. The very fact that an international icon-maker like Disney should embrace the New Urbanism banner-if not the real spirit-will ensure that many will try to follow Disney's lead, some even successfully.
But these inner-city investments are exceptions. If you go to the great cities' suburban fringe, you will find real-estate capital audibly rushing in. "Edge city" is alive and well, the beneficiary of the great inertia of real-estate investment trusts, insurance companies, pension funds, and the developers who serve them. So the questions are "How can we turn 50 years of inertia around?" and "How can we encourage the big money investors to stake a claim in the central city?" Certainly our meeting at Celebration was a good start. But now, those who perceive the enormous gap between suburb and city, who decry the profligate waste of inefficient sprawl, and-most of all-who long for the rekindling of a sense of community, need to move the financial decision makers toward a comprehensive approach to a successful urban future.