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Switch It Up

by M.G. Siegler


What Disney’s city of the future, built to look like the past, says about the present

The Economist revisits Celebration, Florida -- the throw-back town created by Disney -- yes, Disney -- some 20 years ago:

Judged as an attempt to recreate a quasi-mythical past, things did not go so smoothly. Part of Celebration’s appeal was that it would offer a public school with a private education. “What was promised was a revolution in education,” says Lawrence Haber, whose family was the first to move into Celebration, on June 18th 1996. Disney gathered experts from Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, among others, to design the curriculum. There would be no grades. Classes would be mixed, with children of different age groups studying together. It proved a disaster. Kids slacked off. Without test scores, parents were unable to track their children’s progress. Arguments and fist-fights broke out between parents. The school eventually separated into two more conventional public schools. Mr Haber says he might not have moved to Celebration were it not for the school. Many early settlers felt the same way. Some left.


Yet the cinema, a towering faux-art-deco edifice designed by César Pelli has been closed for several years. Locals complained that the downtown lacked basic necessities such as a hardware store or a hairdresser. The small town-centre grocery store shut too, replaced by a big-box supermarket by the highway. The downtown area, which was sold by Disney in 2004, is in poor repair. One block of flats is being entirely renovated, another is held up by wooden support columns, a third is covered with tarpaulin to prevent leaks. Residents of the downtown condominiums complain that they face huge extra fees for repairs despite having paid for maintenance. A lawsuit is in the works.

I'm reminded of that scene from The Matrix: Reloaded where The Architect explains the history of the matrix to Neo:

The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect, it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is as apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being, thus I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature.


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