Is this just a Mickey Mouse town, or real cause to celebrate the American dream?

Mary Dejevsky on the Disney design for life that intellectuals love to hate

Celebration, Florida - It nestles by a blue lagoon, its classically styled clapboard houses glistening in the blazing sun. Its pristine main street, lined with small shops, begins at the colonnaded town hall and ends in a bower at the water's edge.

There are neat villagey streets that curve and weave, defying the standard grid pattern, and a garden square or two. The brand-new school is not - like most new schools - stranded way outside town. There are woods and grass and even pavements that lead somewhere. Everyone is linked by a town-wide "intranet" and, of course, there is a golf course.

But for any American with intellectual pretensions and for any European with half a sense of history, there is only one politically correct response to this small town in the central Florida marshes: Ugh!.

To its detractors, Celebration commits two cardinal sins simply by being there: it is a completely artificial construct and it is a product of the ever-spreading Disney Company. But for the several dozen couples and families who visit the town each day with a view to settling here, these are its charms.

Strange though this may seem in Europe, much of Middle America associates Disney not with kitsch and commercialisation, but with "quality" and "family values". It guarantees a traditional sort of safety; you can rely on it.

And what these Americans (like the late Walt Disney before them) hanker after is the small town of imagined childhood memory: a town with a centre, with walkable streets and houses that look as houses ought to look; a town where you feel safe enough to leave your front door unlocked, let your children walk to school, and lend your neighbour a cup of sugar.

Small matter that, as sophisticates say dismissively, such a town never existed, except perhaps in the pictures of Norman Rockwell (another object of their scorn). The message of Celebration, joyously received by aspiring townspeople, is that even if it did not exist, it could - and would - have been invented. Now, a year after the first residents moved in, Celebration is, depending on your point of view, a town of 1,200 souls, or no soul at all.

Some have dubbed it a "company town" and drawn parallels with the forward- looking settlements built by paternalistic employers for their workers - like Port Sunlight near Liverpool. But Celebration is not a charitable endeavour, nor is it paternalistic, and it is not populated by Disney employees.

Celebration was devised and planned by a specially formed subsidiary of the Disney Company on Disney-owned land just south of the theme parks with twin aims: to meet a perceived demand for a town like this, and to see whether Walt Disney's original idea for Epcot (the experimental prototype community of tomorrow which became just another theme park) could work for real. "Experimental prototype community of yesteryear", scoff critics - even though demand for houses has exceeded supply.

There are no qualifications for living there, the Celebration Company insists, but you have to demonstrate your commitment by buying or building a house there, and then living in it at least nine months of the year. The prices alone operate as a sort of selection; starting around $160,000 (pounds 100,000) for more modest houses, they are very high compared with prices locally. The architectural constraints are another bar: only certain styles and features are permitted so as to maintain the "integrity" of the whole. "Mickey Mouse town", say the critics.

A year on, people are still buying. Most houses are occupied and term at the school has just begun. The next development phase has been accelerated and a massive hospital and recreation complex is scheduled to open early.

Despite all this activity, the streets by day seem strangely empty and the report card on the town's first year is mixed. Enthusiasts talk about friendliness, safety and civilisation. Critics talk of sanitised living and wonder whether a "community" can be built so easily.

A few of the bigger mansions are back on the market. A number of families became disillusioned with the experimental school curriculum and the fact that the new building was not ready last year. They had expected a sound dose of the three Rs in a state-of-the-art building, and presumably straight A grades for their offspring.

This innate conservatism, in fact, seems to characterise Celebration better than its experimental aspect. For, despite its novel beginning, the town resembles nothing so much as an upmarket white suburb of almost any United States city, with the houses just squashed up a little for a faux-urban effect.

Its appeal is identical to that of such suburbs: its residents select themselves by income and aspiration. With its small-town arrangement and its small shops and cafes, it seems to offer the best of both worlds.

Last summer, as the first residents arrived, the chief questions raised by Celebration derived from its artificiality. Can a community be created from scratch? The company says that is up to the residents. Can, and should, a town be started and effectively governed by a corporation? The company replies that local democracy will grow.

But will it, if the residents prefer to live as Disney-style customers rather than democratic participants?

A year on, however, Celebration poses another question. It is an extension of the question posed by the proliferation of exclusive and largely self- contained suburbs around major US cities. Should one section of the population be able to withdraw so completely as to be living in a separate world? And if not, how can that trend possibly be stopped?

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?