Death Knell for Celebration?
Celebration, Fla. Courtesy: Wikipedia.
I like to say that a neighborhood doesn’t seem real until somebody famous is born there or somebody is killed there. Those two phenomenas imply time and humanity, which are, of course, intertwined in our experience. Before somebody becomes famous, they have to live a least part of a life. For somebody to be killed, a place needs to attract attention or emotion—a life lived—and such an act reveals all of our mortality with that shudder of fear we feel whenever we are at home along at night. Nobody who is yet famous has been born in Celebration, Fla., but this last few weeks saw its first murder and then a police standoff that ended when a resident killed himself. This sliver of utopia on the reclaimed swaps is now a real place.
That reality actually set in several years ago, when the crash in real estate prices hit the community with no less vehemence than its neighbors. It does not matter how walkable the town’s core might be, nor how beautifully designed its civic buildings: the houses are still in the middle of sprawl with no clear connection to resources or anything other than the Mouse House nearby (Disney sold the community several years ago). Reports of the murder mention earlier break-ins, but also that houses are losing their sheen and picket fences their paint, and sprawl is reaching beyond the original core and that is no different than that of subdivision everywhere. The local movie theater is boarded up, just as it is in most older town centers. Celebration, it turns out, is just another bit of suburbia that just happens to have a pretty, but fairly useless core.
"Village Homes" in Celebration, Fla. Courtesy: Celebrationinfo.com
Many of us felt there was always something a little bit creepy about the place, and many more who never knew what or where it was shared that feeling after seeing Jim Carey escape up and out of its close, New Urbanist cousin, Seaside, Fla., in the 1998 movie The Truman Show. I would say that this is only appropriate: The community celebrates suburbia in all its forms and its essence, from the mimicking of forms of domesticity that are unrelated to the technology that actually allows you to inhabit in this fetid, isolated landscape, to the fiction of community held up by security systems and economic zoning, to the repression of conflict and emotion in favor of conformity. There is always something unheimlich about suburban homes: the unhomely resides in the home.
You can look at the violent events there in a positive light: now Celebration has been tested, and we all know that trials and tribulations build character. The interesting question to me is, now that this has proven to be just another suburban community, will the design elements that used to set it apart at least a bit give it the backbone with which it will be able to survive in the competitive, build-it-take-the-profit-move-on, development-eat-development world of sprawl? Only time will tell.