Posts Tagged ‘florida’

Celebration Florida

Monday, May 11th, 2009

A little video to get us in the mood before starting on disney’s nostalgic town : D

I have been meaning to talk about my experiences while in Florida checking out different mini-cities. Yes, I touched on The Villages towards Central Florida, a community developed solely for the 55+ crowd looking to be either winter birds or fully retire to the Florida area. That post had pictures of the Cinco de Mayo event going on, which attracted a pretty sizable crowd. However, I had a much bigger fish I wanted to go after, following in the footsteps of Andrew Ross.

On my last full day in Florida, Thursday May 7, I cut out an afternoon to break away from the family and scope out a town just outside of Orlando just off of Route 4. In order to enter the town, one must drive through a series of roads starting at Celebration Plaza with a few odd looking buildings. You sit on celebration avenue for a while until you start seeing Victorian looking houses. Now you have entered the past. At least what is being sold as the past. The structures of the building takes you way back to the 1950s. This of course is all in response to Andrew Ross’ work The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Values. I wanted to see where Ross had walked and taken pictures, held interviews and conducted his research. A brief background to his work, Ross under the auspices of University of New York took on an assignment to write a book about the, then developing, town put on by Disney. I think any study would have to come to the table with a certain stance concerning how Urban Planning should function. I am still learning and feeling my way around how one deals with urban planning, realizing that development is a business like anything else. Who is going to pay the most bucks? Celebration has a certain target audience that desire to not just purchase property but also a memory, nostalgia.  Give Ross a full read when you get the chance.  It definitely has a more academic feel but is still a very interesting read.

I have a few pictures to check out on Flickr if your interested: celebration photos. My favorite, and a trademark building, is the post office. I doubt that a structure like that was common during the 50’s, yet it represents a whimsical look at the past. Also, it’s really easy to find flags around Celebration, recalling that the past America was highly, highly patriotic. My main question as I walked around the enclosed city focused on how you can sell the city to both residents and tourists. I looked closely at the structure of the houses and how the changed as they get further removed from the center of Celebration. The center marketplace, located along a man-made lake, attracts tourists with unique shops and restaurants, although ironically Starbucks managed to get a hold of a building. The market also has the Celebration Hotel for tourists to experience the 50’s close at hand. I moved around from the market place up some of the different roads to check out the houses. As you move further away, I noticed that the houses get much more tame. You start to lose the crazy colors that are found in the marketplace as well as the stranger shapes. It seems to me that the town gets purposely divided between tourist and resident areas. At the end of the day the place produces interesting questions about living spaces.

But rather than make this all academic, I just want to state that I had my own sense of nostalgia. Here I walked the streets where Andrew Ross, someone I read in a class, did his work in ’99 about this growing experiment, now 15 years old, which has made us think about what the reversion to the nostalgic lifestyle means. Students need to deal with work material in more direct ways than just reading a book and writing a paper. Nothing can replace the feeling that comes from looking at the buildings with your own eyes, feeling the brick paths beneath your feet, or noticing how the kids of Celebration are just as rowdy as any other and Celebration throws up no skateboarding signs up. Overall great experience!

Check out the photos!

A Side Trip

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

I have been keeping busy over these past few days since school let out on May 1st. My mom has dragged me down to Florida. Initially, I got to admit I thought I would hate it down here, but really it’s been a nice break. The big issue for this post is: Have you ever had “work” creep into your vacation? For me, it is an easy matter. I love anthropology. The discipline can be my bread and butter at times. Recently, I wrapped up a course about urban planning and development, taught by Professor James. It’s main themes focus on all things urban, yet suburban also falls into the discussion. As a movement that came out of the advent of the car and a post WWII push to leave the city, suburbia presents a host of questions about urban planning and specifically isolation. If you look at a map of a suburb, the roads are far away from any main veins (streets) and often have curvy roads to discourage random drivers from entering the area. Take this aerial photo provided by ms cwang for example.

Yes, we notice a large vein pass close to the residential block, but note that this pathway does not come into contact with the suburb in question. You would have to enter it, if driving, by taking a number of side streets. Someone carefully lays out all of these plans, I assure these are not random designs by some kid. Each design comes with a specific purpose. A photo or snapshot can tell a lot about an area’s purpose, at least at the time of its inception. James provided me a much better eye for urban development, at least giving me a baseline for questioning, always a good start. My next stop, of course, will be Celebration which a part of a study conducted by Mr. Ross about ten years ago now.  Although I could leave Disney’s crack at New Urbanism to a study in an Anthropology course, nothing can beat the ability to go and see this place first hand.  Walk the streets that researcher walked etc.

I went off to visit some friends that live an hour and fifteen minutes north-west of Orlando, Florida.  We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and I figured, since we were in the same area, it was prime time to catch up. I brought my trusty little camera for the ride (provided by DTLT thank you!). Who knows what little random thing you can take a picture of?  I thought nothing of the surrounding area around my friends’ house called the Villages, yet as soon as we turned our little rental car into this place, my newly shaped eye for seeing urban development exploded with excitement. A gated entrance stood just before the car, unmanned yet nevertheless an imposing border line.  I began to take pictures at a furious rate of just about everything–still trying to get a hold of the idea of even taking pictures.  After hanging around my friends’ house (pardon villa) for a while, the couple took my mom, my friend and I around the community for a brief tour.

Some background is required to understand what the Villages are all about. I found out from a long time resident that a man by the name of Harold Schwartz started a small suburb for older individuals called Orange Blossom.  Orange Blossom provided the initial start to this absolutely huge development. He hired on some marketing experts to help further develop and popularize his vision of a planned community. According to an informant, the Villages is the largest entirely family owned development in the country. The entire area contains approximate 75,000 people, primarily above the fifty mark.  The Villages contains many of its own facilities, such as shops, grocery stores, and even a Walmart.  In Urban Theory, through Setha Low’s work, we studied over places such as Celebration Florida (where we will hopefully be going there on Friday) where the main idea is concerned with understanding how gated communities work. The Villages is by and large a gated, although not particularly secure, environment where one can live fairly self-contained and drive around in golf carts or cars.

(Golf Carts line the city streets)

The community actually has a main public roadway that bisects the Villages into two sections each carrying vastly different themes and styles, one being Spanish and the other New England Port. Most significant for me, I found that the Villages is a complex that only allows people older than fifty to life there. Linking this to Gate Communities, I am not used to seeing a fairly active attempt to distinctly label the majority group.  Certainly gated communities tend to be all one homogeneous group, but this is more by the cause of having such high living rates.  Here the Villages stands as an area devoted wholly to the upper fifties+ crowd. With youth and family only allowed at very short intervals, a month at maximum. I came at an interesting time, the community was celebrating Cinco de mayo.  I noted that many of the performers were from the community and even cheerleaders (whom my older friend remarked “probably didn’t make into the high school team!”) did cheers to Spanish music for a pretty packed in audience:  Cheerleaders for Cinco de Mayo.

This place, obviously, is a huge sprawling complex with a lots of clubs and activities for each member.  Many of these members leave during the summer months, which typically one can see a dramatic decrease in population beginning in early to mid May.  I wondered whether any of these people work and what level of disposable income would one have to have in order to stay afloat here.  The level of planning that is involved in the creation of a place like this is unthinkably high.  I have to admit I was impressed, but what does the Villages mean to urban planning?  I have so many unanswered questions about the whole matter.  Yet, all that being said, something interesting is happening with that development.

(update later!)