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.