More Celebration

The town of Celebration is divided into a number of villages, aka real estate development clusters. It is productive to visit a number of neighbourhoods since they vary in what might appeal to the renter or buyer.

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above: one of the busier residential streets had very large houses, but all were zoned to permit home occupations, adding another element to the blend of occupancy types.

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above: across the short bridge shown in the background, and through the portico, brought us to a courtyard apartment development that I’d love to see in Ottawa as an alternative to glass box highrises. Turning around, we’d see …

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above: six storey mid rise apartments. Balconies were large, often six to ten feet deep, and screened, as is shown in the pic below:

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All housing types have discrete parking in garages or courtyards or off laneways.

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above: Celebration has single-stream garbage pickup. Everyone had the same, very large garbage can, with the result that many people left it out by the laneway rather than dragging it into the garage. Porches and patios were not turned into recycling depots. We actually saw people using verandahs and porches and balconies for their intended purpose.

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above: ten years ago Celebration looked very plastic-y. Some critics focussed on the white fences with the faux-surprised claim “but getting up close I discovered they were all plastic”. Had these poor souls never ventured out to see new housing in everyplace’s surburbia??  Had they truly been deprived of ever visiting a Home Depot or Lowes? But shrubs and trees have grown, properties have become individualized, and bits of wear and tear show up, nothing too ugly, but enough to take off the too-good-to-be-true sheen.

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above: rows of townhouses can be arranged in long parades, rather like the townhomes of Bath, England or the Royal Crescent. Notice how the street has a gentle curve. Built in traffic calming. Separation of car and pedestrian. An invitation to walk. It’s January, so a number of deciduous trees are thin or bare.

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above: another view of the crescent, employing a repeating pattern, a delightful symmetry. If you don’t like all the houses in a row, there were other streets with a finer mix of housing styles as shown yesterday. Squint as I might, I could not see for sure if the third floor dormer was fake or to a real room. On some other blocks, close inspection revealed too-uniform dormers sized with false perspective. Note that Ottawa has fake dormers on townhouses too.

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above: this is the laneway behind the same crescent of townhouses. The garage on the immediate left has a laneway apartment above it, as does the third garage cluster. Note also that there is a mix of garages and carports. The upstairs apartments rent for about $600 for a studio (above a one car garage), $800 for one bedroom (above a two car garage) and up to $1400 for large apartments (all utilities in). The idea of having a “mortgage helper” apartment only works if you build it out cheaply. Since these were built to code, with fine details, and bundled into the house price, buyers paid full price per square foot for the space, which means they take an awfully long time to pay back. As time went on, fewer and fewer buyers chose to purchase units with accessory apartments above the garage. Laneway units add vitality and housing variety, but not affordable housing. Ergo, garage units are seen mostly in the original parts of Celebration and not in the newer ones. It may also be that renters prefer the amenities of a more private apartment.

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above: the houses face the concave part of the crescent, which puts them closer together and makes for an intricate closely-knit fabric. The rear-facing garages are on the convex side of the crescent, opening up spaces between the garages and contributing to airiness. As you can see thru the gate, the townhouses are different sizes and layouts despite their harmonious frontages.

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above: in another neighbourhood there were other styles of homes. Single homes, three bedrooms,  are available starting in the $300,000 range; 1600 sq ft apartments for $200,000 (and up and up). The area also had its versions of Island Park, Clemow and Powell Avenues, with multimillion dollar grand homes:

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above: grand homes along an entry road, they also backed onto greenspace. Right across the street, however, there were rows and apartments and modest homes. Can you imagine Ottawa planners allowing a brick intersection with a decorative circle in it and dangerous brick posts at the sidewalks?

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above: the long growing season means that relatively new houses soon look established with attractive vegetation and shaded sidewalks.

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above: all of Florida isn’t much above sea level, so surface drainage ponds and canals are common. There is a line of three and four storey apartments on both sides of this canal-lawn-street-boulevard-sidewalk-yard cross section.

You can create your own tour of Celebration with Google Streetview.


I have more photos of Celebration, and maps, but the reader comment section has grown silent so this will end the Celebration series and the focus turns again to Ottawa. Later, I will post a series of photos of a new urbanism town that failed — badly — and its ties to Ottawa.

9 thoughts on “More Celebration

  1. I am finding the Celebration photos fascinating and terrifying. The town appears to be completely fabricated. I see no life, no uniqueness, no vibrancy in the streets. The houses all seem like empty shells, no personal stuff is anywhere. It seems like a great place to hide…

    Do any children live in this town? Are they allowed to leave their bikes/boards/toys strewn about the front lawn – or does the Celebration neighbourhood associations come by and ticket them? Are the artists shunned out of town?

  2. Meg: I think people see a lot of what they want to see. Of course the town is fabricated. It was built by developers. Developers who were trying to built a better place. As opposed, I guess, to the starving immigrant oppressed self employed who built all these perfect Ottawa neighborhoods we live in now. Were there no developers in 1935? Wasn’t TOD back then DOT?

    I explained I tend to shy away from taking pictures of people I dont know (all the etiquette stuff about privacy, permission, “publishing” them on this blog). If you read the text, I did say there was lots of activity on the streets, lots of people walking about, there were cyclists pictured, I mentioned an abundance of kids playing hockey and skateboarding in the courtyards. Sorry, I don’t go about taking pictures of other people’s kids, they sorta get touchy about sixty year old overweight bearded guys in short pants focussing on their kids. Nor do I film fit young women jogging on the sidewalks or trails. Nor did I take pictures of the other diners at the outdoor restuarants. Or outside the indie coffee shops (no franchise chains permitted). And these patios were busy.

    Nor I did pic of people’s toddlers playing in their yards, or adults sitting on their porches, I did take pic of some uninhabited porches with personal stuff outside, eg toys, chairs, plants, garden art but didn’t print any because they dont convey much about the place. I certainly saw way more people out and about that I do on Preston or West Wellie when I take my daily walks ( wait … err, season may be a factor) and the residential streets were as deserted / low occupied as the side streets around here. Our side streets aren’t exactly thronging with hordes of pedestrians. That’s why it is so nice to see the sudden burst of population after 2.30 as schools start to let out. In sum, the streets were every bit as active as our pre-1940 streets are in summer time.

    And that is an EXTRAORDINARY accomplishment. Remember, this is a new town, built from scratch, trying to replicate what makes pre-1940 neighborhoods that we choose to live so attractive. And our choosing to live here outbids others for the same places and attractions, forcing them to go to places like Arnpiror or Kemptville or Barrhaven. Someone is actually trying to build a better suburb, they need encouragement not derision. And their shortcomings and failures need to be examined too, just like our own neighborhoods, so we can do better tomorrow.

    As promised, I will report on another new urbanism town I visisted and it is an unmitigated failure of new urbanism.

  3. A town like Celebration comes at a price. You are paying for the facade, but eventually the cracks will show. People tend to stop following the rules after a while and then what? Does the Disney corporation kick them out? What are the social demographics of a place like Celebration?

    I’ve loosely followed Celebration since it was first developed. It is fascinating and I appreciate your photos on the place, but I’ll still take Ottawa over it any day.

    1. Would you take Ottawa’s suburbs over Celebration? It’s just under twenty years old. I challenge you to find a more functional Ottawa-area suburb of that era that you’d rather live in. Since it was still RMOC back then, there are plenty of “flavours” to choose from.

      It’s not really with old, established downtowns and pre-war neighbourhoods that places like Celebration are being built as an alternative to. Aspire to, yes, but not as an alternative to. It’s an alternative to standard suburbia.

      In some ways, it’s a minor miracle anyone even bothers to try to make liveable new communities. They probably have to fight entrenched municipal and even provincial/state planning and development bureaucracies, they have to find and get builders and engineers and the rest to do things differently, they have to deal with the real estate and finance sectors that only know how to do standard suburbia “since that’s what people want” and then to top it all off they have to fend off borderline snobbishness from some segments that ought to be more supportive but which instead rejects the resulting communities as pale, fabricated imitations of older areas.

  4. As pointed out in the post, Disney does not run Celebration, it is self governing. The social demographics are unlikely to exactly match an older city, or a typical american inner city, but are most likely to approximate other new-home areas. According to the 2010 census data in wikipedia:

    The racial makeup of the CDP was 81.9% non-Hispanic white, 1.5% black, 3.2% Asian, 2.2% from two or more races and 0.26% Native American. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.2% of the population.

    There were 3,063 households out of which 32.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.0% were married couples living together, 4.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.0% were non-families. 24.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.96.

    In the CDP the population was spread out with 25.6% under the age of 18, and 9.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 94.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.5 males.

    The median income for a household in the CDP was $74,231, and the median income for a family was $92,334. Males had a median income of $51,250 versus $46,650 for females. The per-capita income for the CDP was $39,521, and 4.1% of the population lived below the poverty line

  5. Thanks for this series. I can’t help but wonder how much snow and ice removal impact the design rules Ottawa planners follow.

    1. Ottawa might take snow and ice removal into consideration in their design rules, but they sure don’t take them into account otherwise. It shouldn’t be possible to run into massive slush puddles where crosswalks meet sidewalks in the first winter after a street is rebuilt.

  6. Hi Eric, I’ve really enjoyed these posts. I visited Celebration 4-5 years ago, and it was interesting to read your impressions. While I do agree that the styles and mixes of buildings are worthy of imitation for newer suburbs, I remember being struck with the lack of “utilitarian” businesses in the downtown. I saw plenty of pubs, cafes, candy stores, gift shops, etc. but nothing that you’d need on an everyday basis, like groceries and hardware (you’d probably have to get in the car and head to the nearby I-4 for that). But that is really not unlike the businesses you find in the Glebe, if you think about it.

    I remember I was walking the main strip around sundown. It was December and as soon as the street lights were illuminated, they started to emit a white, foamy substance meant to resemble snow. The kids loved it, of course, trying to make foam snowballs and give each other soapy whitewashes. As a Canadian, however, I couldn’t help but think it rather depressing.

    1. the business mix was something I made a point of looking at. The ‘town centre” had no drugstore, hardware store, or grocery store. These were at the edge of town, adjacent the freeway, where a better-than-average-looking-but-still-big-box-mall was located, with grocery store and the usual culprits that we’d secretly love to have in our downtown neighbourhoods but since we can’t we pretend we dont want to see, instead preferring to shop at Angel stores and coffee shops and fancy pastry places or restaurants the use words like confit and reduction. But then, how many pre-1940 neighborhoods in Ottawa have a full line grocery store per 5000 population? Uh, none. The plaza at the freeway entrance to Celebration was shared with other neighborhoods / subdivisions scattered in exurban Orlando, as you need a larger draw than just celebration. On the other hand, Celebration is still young, and growing, and there is lots of provision for growth, including significant growth and further densitification of the downtown and maybe a butcher shop or candlestick maker will make an appearance someday. Or a grocery. With or without it, I’d take Celebration over Barrhaven or Riverside South anyday.

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