"Celebration: Where the American Dream Comes True?" (anonymous)
I have been to Disneyland several times throughout my life, and I enjoy the trip and have fun every time, but I would never buy season tickets and spend more than a few days there. It would just get boring: I would be able to sing along to "It's a Small World" every time I entered Fantasyland; I would know every up, down, or turn for every ride; and Mickey Mouse and his friends would probably even know my name.
I recently learned about Disney's town of Celebration, Florida. At first, I thought that if dreams come true in Disneyland, then the American Dream would surely come true in this wonderful town called Celebration. However, after some reading and research, I realized that living in this town would be a lot like buying season tickets to Disneyland: living in Celebration for a while would be fun and exciting, but after Disney's "magic" wears off, it would not turn out to be a great place to live or to find the American Dream.
At first glance, Celebration seems like an ideal little town where everyone likes each other and is happy, a place where the American Dream can become a reality. Most houses are large white Victorians with columns and big front porches, with neat, clean front yards. There are no garbage cans or parked cars cluttering up the streets because these have been hidden away behind the houses in alleys. The parks are numerous and beautifully landscaped with flower gardens and a canopy of trees. The downtown overlooks a glassy lake and offers lots of outdoor seating at cafes and ice cream parlors.
But there is a sinister side to this beautiful town. The Disney corporation requires people to keep everything nice and neat, and to park cars in the alleys. In his essay "Town Building is No Mickey Mouse Operation," Michael Pollan mentions that residents in Celebration can only hang curtains or blinds in their windows that are in shades of white. When one resident put up red curtains, the "mayor" told them to take them down because they looked "icky." People in Celebration have little freedom to shape the community for themselves.
Another problem with Celebration is that it is missing a lot of the features that make a community work. Yes, there is a golf course, a lake, lovely parks, a movie theater, and a quaint downtown center near to people's homes, but basics like grocery stores, drugstores, inexpensive restaurants, gas stations, and hair salons are all missing. There is no 7-11, no Walmart with its thousands of affordable products, no Safeway where one select from 50 kinds of cereal or ice cream. Many residents commute a half hour to Orlando to shop.
There are also few local jobs for the residents of Celebration. Most communities offer residents jobs in local businesses that serve the community — as mechanics, hairdressers, grocery clerks, dry cleaners, dental assistants, etc. And when the locals work in their own town, they begin to know one another and build community. Celebration offers few opportunities for work and for connection, making the town a lifeless "bedroom suburb."
And sadly, Celebration is missing social and cultural diversity. Its population is 93% white, even though Orlando, 30 minutes away, has a large community of African Americans and Latinos. (How this happened is curious, given that residents had to enter a lottery to get a home there, and supposedly the lottery was random.) The town is also made up almost entirely of young families with very few older residents.
An equally disturbing problem with Celebration is that it is too much like Disney's parks. During the fall months, red, orange and brown leaves shoot out of the light poles each evening, covering the main streets in a carpet of Autumn color. In the winter, "snow" replaces the leaves each evening, and families stroll along the snowy sidewalks while their kids throw snowballs. In FLORIDA! They even hear Christmas carols and stories over the speakers all along the street. And while Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck may not make an appearance in Celebration, residents do experience Disney-sponsored parades and Disney radio concerts. The artificiality of all of this feels wrong. Celebration is like a movie of a community rather than a living, breathing town.
The American dream is about basics: a lovely home, a loving family, a solid community, a life without much stress, a rewarding job that pays well. It is inclusive; everyone can pursue this dream. Some people thought they would find it in Celebration. How could they fail? Disney, the dream-maker, the founder of the happiest place on earth, created it. But the loss of freedom to shape the community, the odd whiteness and uniformity of the population, and the artificiality of the town make it a lifeless place. Fake snow in Florida is not what the American Dream is all about.