The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town

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9780345417527: The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town

Scholar and iconoclast Andrew Ross spent a year living in the much scrutinized, and often demonized, Celebration--the picture-perfect town that Disney is building for 20,000 people in the swamp and scrub of central Florida. Lavishly planned with a downtown center and newly minted antique homes, and front-loaded with an ultraprogressive school, hospital, and high-tech infrastructure, Celebration was to offer a fresh start in a world gone wrong. Yet behind the picket fences, gleaming facades, and "Kodak moment" streetscapes, Ross discovered a real place with real problems, and not a theme park village cooked up by the Imagineers. Compelling and wide-ranging in its analysis, The Celebration Chronicles provides a startlingly fresh perspective on the link between contemporary urban planning and corporate bottom lines.

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Review:

In The Celebration Chronicles, Andrew Ross has written a moving and subtle account of his yearlong stay at Disney's glistening suburban development in Celebration, Florida. Readers might expect that Ross, the director of American studies at New York University and a devoted urbanite, would contribute to both the fashionable sport of Disney bashing and the tired genre of suburban reproof. But, like an anthropologist gone native, Ross immersed himself in the community, interviewing dozens of the 20,000 residents, volunteering at the local school, and finding himself pleasantly surprised when his subjects had christened him an honorary Celebrationite.

Celebration, Ross argues, is the latest in a long line of utopian communities built to realize the American dream. Many wealthy and eager romantics flocked to the town with a faith that Disney magic would fulfill their hopes for a perfect community (and increase their property values). When the majority of these people found their dreams dashed against the corporation's bottom line, however, they engaged in grass roots activism that did more to bring their community together than any of the schemes from Disney "imagineers." Moving from a cogent analysis of the town to a multifaceted consideration of the environmental implications of American liberty, The Celebration Chronicles is a masterpiece of American studies scholarship. As astute as it is readable, Ross's book shows how Celebration's high-octane pursuit of happiness resulted in a limited civic culture and contributed to an overall ecological catastrophe that continues to worsen with each new drive toward the American dream. --James Highfill

From the Inside Flap:

"Planned with impeccably correct intentions, built with improperly low-wage labor, and sold on the basis of improbably lavish guarantees, Celebration would be put to the test time and time again. . . . True to the ethos of the blockbuster box-office hit, would this town deliver on the promise of its business plan or its community plan? Or would it sidestep all expectations and play by a different script?"

Scholar and iconoclast Andrew Ross set out to answer these questions by spending a year living in the much scrutinized, and often demonized, Celebration--the picture-perfect town that Disney is building for 20,000 people in the swamp and scrub of central Florida. Lavishly planned with a downtown center and newly-minted antique homes, and front-loaded with an ultra-progressive school, hospital, and high-tech infrastructure, Celebration would be yet another fresh start in a word gone wrong. Yet behind the picket fences, gleaming facades, and "Kodak moment" streetscapes, Ross discovered genuine, complex, and often surprising truths.

In this compelling, eye-opening account, based on his personal encounters and on several hundred hours of interviews with residents, employees, and county locals, Ross records what went right and what went wrong in this latest version of the American Dream. Diverse in background, Celebration's pioneers were united by a desire to escape the cheerless isolation of suburbia and reconnect with the neighbors. They were also dazzled by the Disney brand name and expected much more than they got. The Celebration Chronicles recounts their often unruly struggles to build a community in the face of adversity: shoddy construction, typecasting by the media, Disney's skittishness about negative publicity, and friction with the working-class county of Osceola. An acute observer in the controversial school, Ross takes us to the front lines of a superheated battle of wills between educators and townspeople.

What does Celebration reveal about the state of contemporary culture? Is this model town a cause for celebration or alarm? Can we entrust the public interest to giant beneficiaries of the marketplace like Disney? One of our shrewdest social commentators, Ross brilliantly places this planned community within the context of the New Urbanist movement to combat suburban sprawl and restore public life to the nation's increasingly privatized landscape. Powerful, wide-ranging in its analysis, The Celebration Chronicles is a provocative account of the inner life of a new American town.

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Andrew Ross Ph.D.
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