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Review of "Celebration U.S.A.," by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins 

Living With Mickey

We've heard a lot about community lately. The gist of the clamor is that we need to reinstate the values that can be fostered by a sense of belonging.

Enter Disney and the planned town of Celebration, Fla. Using some of the most innovative urban designers, the company has built a town that is planned to foster neighborliness and easy living.

In order to write this book, "Celebration U.S.A." (Henry Holt, $25), reporters Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins and their two young children moved to Celebration at its beginning in 1997. Their report from the front lines is fascinating and evenhanded. They tell us about the manner in which Disney exercised control: The company appointed the town manager without input from the residents; micro-regulated life to such an extent that a new owner was reproved for temporarily hanging red curtains at her window while she waited for the obligatory white ones; and insisted that the Presbyterian minister remove a mildly critical sentence from a talk he was to give at Founders Day. They let us see the environmental ruthlessness with which the company cut down scores of 100-year-old live oaks and tried to fill in some wetlands. And we hear about the conflicts about and failures of the much-advertised school.

They also show us the key failure: Disney was really interested in the bottom line. Because of what the authors describe as the company's "fear that the project would not be popular with the middle class if it had room for poor people," there was no low-cost housing to attract a diverse group of residents. Largely, white middle-class families flocked to this protected area.

But Frantz and Collins also tell us of Celebration's successes: the placement of expensive houses close to smaller ones, the use of front porches to help neighbors to get to know one another, the design of a real downtown within walking distance. And we see the residents begin to take hold of their own lives and begin to enjoy each other and their surroundings.

Designers of our gated communities and people who are looking for community could profit from the experiences Frantz and Collins share with
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