Why live in Celebration, Florida when you can live in a Disney gated community within the resort?

Celebration, Florida gets a lot of attention as a Disney-designed New Urbanist community but there are more exclusive Disney housing options: living in a big house within a gated community inside the resort.

Walt Disney Co.’s gated community known as Golden Oak—named after the company’s California ranch—is the only place in the world where you can own a home within Disney-resort boundaries. Some 980 acres are being carved up for as many as 450 homes on the Lake Buena Vista site, a few within eyesight of the famous Cinderella Castle fireworks.

Homeownership in the development starts at $1.7 million, and homes have sold for more than $7 million. Extras include property taxes and annual fees as high as $12,000 to cover perks, which include park passes, door-to-park transportation, extended hours for visiting attractions such as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and a 17,000-square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant and concierge. Residents also will have access to some of the amenities, including the spa and dining rooms at the $370 million, 444-room Four Seasons resort expected to open in Golden Oak next summer…

Many homes include nods to Mickey Mouse and friends. (Disney is willing to overlook trademark violations inside the home.) The ceiling of one of Mr. Bergami’s guest rooms has a tray ceiling in the shape of Mickey’s head. Doors have carvings of the castle, Donald Duck and Goofy.

Homeowners also have the option of adding “hidden Mickeys”—as the features are known—in everything from kitchen backsplashes to stair railings. Builder Chad Cahill included an estimated 75 hidden mouse ears in a showcase home finished earlier this year. Some are tough to spot, so when the furnished $2.7 million home sells, the new owner will receive a map of the locations.

See a 2012 post about the construction of this gated community. Sounds like the gated community is all about giving the wealthiest Disney fans what they want: an immersive Disney home just a short distance away from the Disney gates.

A thought about these wealthy Disney fans: are they easy to spot at the Disney parks? We spent a day at the Magic Kingdom in Florida last year and I was struck that the people around us looked like a broad slice of middle-class America. Granted, it is not cheap: single-day tickets were over $90, the food was moderately expensive (not as bad as I thought it might be), and many people have to travel far and pay for airfare, a hotel, and a rental car. Of course, there are lots of other things to spend big money on (for example, giving your small daughter the full princess experience), but I don’t remember seeing people who were flashing wads of money and really expensive clothes or other goods. Perhaps this says more about Americans trying to downplay their wealth (we’re all middle-class) or the findings that most millionaires don’t act like stereotypical millionaires.

An overview of IKEA’s new 26-acre redevelopment in London’s East End

Here is a quick look at IKEA’s large redevelopment project in London’s East End:

The new project is only the first step of Ikea’s journey into urbanism. Inter Ikea’s LandProp division has acquired a second parcel north of London and has initiated talks for a $1.45 billion project in Birmingham twice the size of the one in London; it has reportedly shopped for sites in Hamburg, Germany, too. LandProp also intends to build a hundred budget hotels across Europe and is considering a push into student housing, all covered by the stores’ bottomless cash flow. “Once we decide to do something, we go like a tank,” said LandProp’s chief, Harald Muller, at Strand East’s unveiling in 2011. (Citing overwhelming media interest, LandProp refused repeated requests for an interview.)…

The new town within a town pursues this dual goal by putting the Swedish vision of the folkhemmet (the “people’s home”) to the test. It’s a utopian dream that dovetails nicely with the aim of London officials to use the Olympic legacy to address historic inequalities in the city’s East End. Plans for Strand East depict car-free streets lined with low-slung multifamily town houses, while smaller homes face the back alleys in an echo of London’s beloved mews. Of the 1,200 homes and apartments, LandProp promises that 40% will be large enough for families; another 15% will be set aside for affordable housing, for which London has considerable pent-up demand. The remainder of the site will consist of public squares and parks, with mid-rise commercial districts along the edges.

So far, urbanists are impressed with what they’ve seen of the project. “Compared to the towering cities popping up around the world, Strand East is a quaint, pleasant surprise, mixing old and new in a way that gives the area an uncommon sense of history and place,” says Paul Kroese, strategic adviser for the International New Town Institute. The plans are of a piece with Ikea’s other ventures, too. “Ikea wants to build a world that leverages its knowledge of how people live,” says Steen Kanter, a former top Ikea executive in the United States who today runs his own consultancy, Kanter International. “And it’s a good way to gain expertise installing kitchens and wardrobes and other large environments.”

Indeed, some retail analysts suggest that Strand East is both a branding exercise for Ikea and a living laboratory for a renewed drive into housing. The company has been trying to crack the U.K. market since 1997, when it intro duced a flat-pack home. The BoKlok comes in three configurations (none larger than 800 square feet), with prices starting at about $112,500. (The houses are assembled by Ikea’s construction partner, Skanska.) More than 4,900 BoKloks have been built to date in Scandinavia, but it hasn’t caught on in the United Kingdom despite recently renewed interest in prefab housing.

Curbed sums up some of the more interesting aspects of the project:

1. Included in Ikea’s masterplan: shops, schools, theaters, a hotel, and, you know, apartments for 6,000 people.

2. Strangely absent? An actual Ikea store.

3. Starting prices for the town’s flat-pack houses, called BoKlock, are less than half the price of an average U.K. house—$112,500 vs. $260,850...

5. Of the 1,200 houses to be built, 40 percent will be large enough for families, and 15 percent of them will be earmarked as affordable housing...

7. The whole shebang will supposedly cost around $500M.

We’ll see what happens. Even if this wasn’t built with IKEA, there could be some questions about the design, how successful it will be as a mixed-income neighborhood, and how it will fit in with the surrounding area. While people seem interested in how might affect IKEA’s global image, I would be more interested to know how the community itself will relate to IKEA as developer and major corporation. The experiences of a place like Celebration, Florida and Disney suggest this can be a convoluted process that both attracts a certain kind of resident but can lead to governance and identity issues.

The Thomas Kincaide housing development in Vallejo, California

With the recent passing of Thomas Kincaide, one columnist takes a look at a development in Vallejo, California built with Kincaide’s name on it:

Named the Village, a Thomas Kinkade Community, it promised residents a “vision of simpler times” with “cottage style homes that are filled with warmth and personality.” Its slogan: “Calm, not chaos. Peace, not pressure.”…

The homes in the Village look a lot like other tract homes in Hiddenbrooke, but with Kinkadean touches such as steeply gabled roofs covered in faux-slate tile, gingerbread trim, front porches and stone facades.

Residents see their homes and neighborhood as unique and distinctive.

Teri Booth, an original owner, says she bought her home because “it didn’t look like every other McMansion.”

Homes here average 2,400 square feet. The four models were named after Kinkade’s daughters – Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett. The styles might be described as pseudo Victorian, pseudo French provincial, pseudo New England cottage and pseudo arts and crafts.

The streetlights (electric) look like Kinkade’s gaslight logo and the walkways (stamped concrete) resemble cobblestones.

This reminds me of the Disney-built Celebration, Florida and Martha Stewart homes. Some homebuyers are looking for a distinctive house, a world of not “every other McMansion” but rather a Thomas Kincaide McMansion! (Interestingly, this article suggests that the Kincaide homes are a pastiche of styles, a common complaint about McMansions. These homebuyers also seem to like being tied to a famous person or company. Perhaps this is reassuring or perhaps it means that there might be a bigger market for the homes as they are distinctive. (Alas, as the article suggests, home prices in a Kincaide neighborhood can fall as well.) The Village also seems to promote nostalgia and traditional neighborhood life, as do many other developments and builders.

Why have just a painting when you can buy a Thomas Kincaide house?

Disney building luxury community of Golden Oak

The Disney community of Celebration is well known (see earlier posts here and here) but the company is developing a more luxurious community called Golden Oak three miles from the theme parks.

At prices ranging from $1.5 million to upwards of $8 million, the developer promises a house and neighborhood with the hallmarks it has carefully cultivated for decades: meticulous attention to detail; extensive personal service; and, if you’re so inclined, a daily dose of Mickey, Minnie and the crew…

Although Florida abounds in upscale communities that promote a “lifestyle” of one kind or another, Golden Oak’s planners think the Disney brand is the not-so-secret weapon that sets it apart: Buy here, goes part of the sales pitch, and get years of virtually unlimited access to Disney properties in the surrounding area.

“We’ve never done this for anybody else,” explained Stacey Thomson, public relations manager for Golden Oak, who said that buyers in the current sales phase will get three years’ worth of unlimited VIP-access passes to the parks for the homeowner and four guests, in addition to such services as door-to-park van service, access to special events, and numerous other Disney-esque benefits that don’t accrue to the typical visitor…

Where Celebration was conceived as a full-fledged town with a large contingent of full-time residents and a share of units at a much lower price point, Golden Oak is a sprawling, 980-acre subdivision that will function more as a gilt-edged resort…

This is a great example of branding. If your company can be associated with ideas like quality, fun, vacation, and magic, consumers will go to great lengths to be a part of this. The reach of Disney is so broad that they can build communities and people are drawn to them because of the Disney name even though they could find comparable homes or amenities elsewhere.

While we know there are enough buyers to make this work, it would be helpful to hear more from Disney in what they are trying to do with Golden Oak. Here is “the story of Golden Oak“:

The story of Golden Oak begins in true once-upon-a time fashion. As a youth in Missouri, Walt Disney would lie beneath the spreading branches of his “dreaming tree” and let his imagination run free. It was here that Walt’s talents for storytelling and fantasy began to take shape into some of the world’s most beloved characters.

Years later, a scenic ranch in California’s Placerita Canyon proved an equally inspiring location for filming segments of The Mickey Mouse Club TV show. Walt Disney Productions purchased portions of the property in 1959 and, over the years, acquired more than 900 acres to reserve its quiet vistas for TV and movie productions and protect its harmony with nature. In fact, Walt and his family spent time relaxing and playing on the ranch.

The name of this ranch? Golden Oak, in honor of a storied tree there, under which some say gold nuggets had been found in 1842. From these illustrious origins, the legacy continues with Golden Oak at Walt Disney World® Resort.

The website for Golden Oak emphasizes a blend of neighborhood plus resort living. Will there really be a neighborhood here or is this more of a resort that can be called a “neighborhood” because it consists of single-family homes? Or does Disney think that without calling it a neighborhood, the development won’t be as attractive? If only you have the money necessary, you too can purchase this unique Disney blend.

I wonder if we can read anything into this development in terms of how it relates to Celebration. This wealthier development could be a marker of several things:

1. Disney has gone as far as it wants to go with Celebration type developments which are more geared toward “average” suburbanites. Disney now wants to take advantage of wealthier people who are willing to buy larger and more expensive homes these days.

1a. Does Disney consider Celebration a success or would they do a lot differently if they were starting a new community?

2. Disney finds these housing projects to be profitable and will pursue more of these in the future as conditions allow. It would be interesting to know how profitable the developments are.


IKEA neighborhood to be built in London

IKEA is planning to build a sizeable east London neighborhood in the next few years:

The new district, Strand East, will include 1,200 homes, of which about 40 percent will have three or more bedrooms. Strand East will also have a 350-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel, 480,000 square feet of offices, shops, cafes, restaurants, a school, a nursery, and a health-care facility, allowing residents to accomplish daily errands and needs without having to drive.

The 26-acre neighborhood-in-progress is being designed to include car-free pedestrian zones, courtyards and landscaped grounds, while the planned underground parking means vehicles will be stowed tidily out of sight. The parcel is bordered on two of three sides by waterways, so the community might take on a Venice-like feel, with a water taxi service, a floating cocktail bar, and moorings that will be available for residents’ use…

Although some planning approvals are pending, construction is planned to begin in 2013 — after the Olympics — and is expected to take about five years. However, one section, Dane’s Yard (pictured at top) has been approved. It will feature a 40-meter-high (131-foot) illuminated sculpture in its public square, and a Grayson’s restaurant that will focus on ethically and locally sourced foods. It will also retain renovated versions of some of the historic buildings.

“We will turn it around for sure,” says Müller. “Not being arrogant, but for sure it will be a new hotspot in London.”

This isn’t IKEA’s first time pursuing something like this: the article suggests they have had “similar developments in Poland, the Baltics and Romania.” It is too bad the article doesn’t tell us more about those projects.

The redevelopment project itself doesn’t sound too startling; it sounds like they want to create a new vibrant neighborhood that will take advantage of some of the settings for the site which includes water access. What I assume will catch people’s attention is that the development company is part of IKEA. Does this immediately change the perceptions about the project? Compare this to Celebration, Florida – is it better or worse to have IKEA versus Disney build a neighborhood/town? How involved will IKEA be with the neighborhood after the neighborhood is constructed? What would happen if other retail companies, say Target or Walmart or Costco, decided to build neighborhoods?

I wonder how many jokes could be made about this. Do residents have to assemble their own homes out of a box? Will the design all be Scandinavian minimalism…?

Chicago’s crime rate down for 23rd straight month – but is this the public perception?

The Chicago Tribune reports that the November crime statistics for Chicago look good. Here are a few of the important statistics:

Superintendent Jody Weis announced November’s crime statistics Sunday, saying the decrease amounted to the 23rd consecutive month of lower overall crime in the city.

Property crimes dropped overall by 2.2 percent compared with last year’s figures, officials said…

There were 12 fewer slayings in November compared with last year’s figures, a 2.8 percent dip. This year there were 412 slayings reported compared with 424 for the same time last year, officials said. These numbers were lower than figures reported in 2007 for the same time frame; that year had the lowest number of slayings since 1965, police said.

Overall violent crime dropped 9.8 percent, with criminal sexual assaults dropping by 8.5 percent compared with last year, robberies dropping 11 percent and aggravated assaults 11.9 percent, officials said.

This sounds like good news. In fact, how have I not heard about this before – now 23 straight months of decreasing crime rates? One would think that Chicago officials and police would be trumpeting this all over the place: crime is going down!

But on the other hand, this reminds me that the public perception of crime rates is what really matters. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about teenagers being shot. The nightly news and local media still seems to revolve around ghastly crimes. Does the average Chicago citizen or resident of the region know that crime in Chicago has gone down for nearly two years?

And ultimately, what would the crime rate need to be so that people wouldn’t see Chicago as a den of crime? A place like Celebration, Florida can experience one murder and people wonder if it has all gone wrong. Would Chicago be seen as a relatively crime-free place with 350 murders a year? 300? The crime rate could go down for another 6 months or a year but there has to be a lower number where people (and perhaps the media) start perceiving Chicago differently.

Celebration, Florida, built by Disney, has first murder

Many suburbs rarely experience a murder. In fact, many suburban residents might give this as a reason for moving into these communities: the crime, particularly serious crimes, is limited. So when a murder is committed in a model community, particularly one built by Disney, it will receive attention.

Here is a quick summary of what happened in Celebration, Florida:

Residents of the town five miles south of Walt Disney World woke up Tuesday to the sight of yellow crime-scene tape wrapped around a condo near the Christmas-decorated downtown, where Bing Crosby croons from speakers hidden in the foliage. A 58-year-old neighbor who lived alone with his Chihuahua had been slain over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Osceola County sheriff’s deputies said.

What is interesting to note is how the rest of the story describes Celebration. Some of the commentary is what you would expect from any wealthy suburb: this was an isolated incident, this sort of stuff doesn’t happen in the community, and the residents shouldn’t worry. But here a few pieces of the description about the uniqueness of Celebration:

The killing sullies the type of perfection envisioned in 1989 when Peter Rummell, then-president of the Disney Development Corp., wrote to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner about building a new town on vacant, Disney-owned land in Osceola County.

The community would be a “wonderful residential town east of I-4 that has a human scale with sidewalks and bicycles and parks and the kind of architecture that is sophisticated and timeless. It will have fiber optics and smart houses, but the feel will in many cases be closer to Main Street than to Future World,” Rummell wrote in the letter.

Houses incorporated “New Urbanism” ideas such as placing the garage out of sight in the back and a front porch close to the sidewalk to encourage neighbor interaction. Restrictions on home color and architectural details also were in the community’s rulebook. Colonial, Victorian, and Arts and Crafts-style homes grace the streets; the downtown is a mix of postmodern buildings and stucco condos.

Residents arrived in 1996. Critics viewed it as something out of “The Truman Show,” or “The Stepford Wives.”

Fans saw other things. A return to small-town values. A walkable community. Safety.

So this is the media story: the murder that took place in the “perfect Disney town” (as the link on the Chicago Tribune’s front page suggests). A few thoughts of mine about this:

1. Celebration receives a lot of attention due to who created it and how it was created. Is there a point where this will become just another community?

2. No community is “perfect,” even one created by a company like Disney which sells its products based on this idea of joy and magic. The same AP story lists some of the problems from recent years including graffiti and a recent day when the local school was on lockdown.

3. Suburbs or small towns are not immune to crime, even of this magnitude.

4. It will be interesting to see how this story affects the marketing of the community.

5. This seems like an illustration for all suburbia: crimes like this can upset people’s feelings and attitudes toward places that they once considered perfect and safe.

Unique planned communities in America

CNN Money takes a quick look at a few of “the most unusual planned communities” in the United States. From a large town for active retirees to a Martha Stewart designed community to a community built around a new Catholic university, these places certainly are interesting.

Celebration, Florida also makes this list. Celebration was developed by Disney and is the subject of several interesting books that focus on the early years of the community:

Celebration, U.S.A.: Living in Disney’s Brave New Town, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, 2000

The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town, Andrew Ross, 2000