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

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The Economist: OUTSIDE the white fence is all strip malls, motels and resort villages. Come off the six-lane highway at the spaghetti junction where Interstate 4 meets Highway 192, go past the ornamental water tower, and you are in Celebration, a town of the sort that America stopped building in the 1950s. Most of its 4,000 homes are small by suburban standards, jutting up against narrow streets. Children walk to school. The small downtown has no chains, apart from an obligatory Starbucks. Its 10,000-odd residents are mostly white, white-collar and Republican. In some ways it is a vision of America’s past. Yet Celebration is only 20 years old.

The town was developed by Disney as an antidote to the isolation of the suburbs. By the 1970s more Americans lived in suburbs than either in cities or in rural areas. Two decades later there were more cars than drivers in America. By the turn of the century, SUV-driving suburbanites became the majority, outnumbering rural and city folk combined. The wholesale shift to the suburbs, ever-longer commutes and the rise of shopping malls and big-box stores fractured community life, as downtowns emptied and commerce shifted to the edges of highways.

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