We lived there from 2003-2005 (see photo), 740 Mulberry Avenue on Savannah Square, in a 3-story townhouse. And by and large, we loved it.
I survived three category 3 hurricanes in six weeks while living there in 2004, with Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. Marked that off my bucket list.
It isn’t for everyone. Being in the heart of tourist land (US 192 abuts the North Village, and Disney is right across I-4), it is anything but convenient to shop for groceries, hardware, or any “basics” outside “the bubble.”
But there were also so many cool things, too – walking in the morning around the lake, hearing voices, and looking up to see hot air balloons just a few hundred feet overhead. Hansom cab rides in the Fall and Christmas. Walking to the bank, restaurants, the post office, the movies (sadly, no longer open). Fireworks from Disney every night at 9. Ten minutes door-to-door from the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Heaven to some. Hell to others.
It even has its own song:
It is no more authentic (or inauthentic) than beards, tattoos, and yoga pants. Give those a couple of decades of hindsight, and we’ll see how they hold up.
What Celebration does is throw into sharp relief a bit of what living in Florida is like – essentially, a state of haves and have nots. Along US 192 you have families stuck living in hotel rooms, unable to escape to a better life. Immediately beside, inside the bubble, million dollar houses and a new urbanist vision of harmonious high density living. A tiny corner of conspicuous consumption in one of the largest counties in the state, with only significant two cities of any size (Kissimmee and St. Cloud – Celebration is not classified as a city).
Contrasted with my time in Winter Park (2008-2011), Celebration certainly lacked the patina that comes with established neighborhoods. But – one murder in a couple of decades? I think that stands up pretty well, compared to Metropolitan Orlando (in 2007 or 2008 – memory fails me – there were something over 100 murders in a single year there).
I have lived in neighborhoods undergoing transformation (Hillsboro Belmont / Belmont Waverly in Nashville), established neighborhoods (Orwin Manor / Winter Park, FL), and new urbanist developments (Celebration, FL / Hendrix Village, Conway, AR). Old houses, houses with leaky roofs, new houses with termites. Neighborhoods aren’t great intrinsically; what makes great neighborhoods are great people, and I have happily found great people almost everywhere we’ve been, regardless of the prevailing economic demographic.
If you look for problems, you’ll find them. That’s not being apologetic for Celebration, because I’ve had some rather shitty interactions there. For example, the first night in our house in Celebration we had a neighbor put a nasty note on my car, for parking in the spot in front of MY house, before determining who’s car it was. Or the neighbors who never stopped by until our house went on the market – but were on us like flies trying to list our house once they found out we were moving (oh wait – that was Winter Park!). Or the neighbors who watched our garage get robbed and never called the police (oh wait – that was Waverly Belmont!). You get the idea.
Point is, Celebration is an easy target for some well deserved Schadenfreude. But it was also the first home for my second child, and the place where many happy family memories were made for us. You can say I have a “soft spot” for Celebration (mostly, the top of my head).
The issue with Celebration is that it is a dream concept, but a dream concept that was – and is – only ever available to a few. Would I live there again? Yes.
But I would take it for what it is, and not for what it was supposed to be.