That Disney’s theme parks exist in stark economic contrast with their surroundings is no mystery. (See: Sean Baker’s 2017 film, The Florida Project.) But in this reported essay, Gaby Del Valle traces a long arc — from Roy and Walt Disney’s initial vision for Orlando, through the flawed development of nearby town Celebration, to newly announced affordable-housing plans — showing that the company’s voracious real-estate dealings act to further disenfranchise the very people who make its resorts the Happiest Place on Earth.
Celebration, announced a year after the bond scandal, was part of a public campaign to repair Disney’s increasingly negative image. More importantly, though, it was a message to Orange County legislators — a reminder that Disney also owned property in Osceola County, and that it could choose to develop its unused land there instead. To the public, Celebration was presented as the realization of Walt’s dream for a City of Tomorrow, a place that would use the best ideas from the past to build a forward-looking community. “That was all press copy stuff,” a former Disney executive told Foglesong. To state and local officials, and to Celebration residents, Disney’s refusal to build affordable housing in the town — instead donating only $300,000 over three years to Osceola’s Housing Assistance Plan — signaled a far more exclusive vision of utopia.