News & Opinion

Celebration residents drive less, report quality-of-life benefits

Issue: May/June 2000
Issue Date: Mon, 2000-05-01
Page Number: 1


In a survey reaching half the town’s households, 63 percent of the residents reported using their cars less than they did in their previous community. Only 8 percent said they drive more, and 29 percent reported no change in their driving habits.

The results of a Celebration Quality of Life Survey give a strong indication that the new urbanist design of Celebration in Osceola County, Florida, gives residents the option of leaving the car in the garage more often. Of the people who reported driving less after moving to the town, 43 percent said they drive significantly less, while the remainder said they use their car somewhat less.

The survey also reveals that a great majority of residents (90 percent) feel that the physical characteristics of Celebration contribute to and improve their quality of life. These characteristics include different housing types, front porches, parks, and the proximity of neighborhoods to downtown.

The responses were collected in a telephone survey during May and June of 1999, by the Accelerating Community Transformation (ACT) project of the San Francisco-based Health Forum. In collaboration with the Celebration Company, Health Forum is gathering base line data on residents’ views on the so- called “five cornerstones” of Celebration: sense of place, technology, education, health, and sense of community.

From a sample of the 496 households that had moved to Celebration before December 31, 1998, Health Forum surveyed 250 households to reach a sample with a 95 percent confidence level and a five percent margin of error.

Reasons for driving less
The survey does not probe into exactly how residents have been able to cut down on driving, but according to Celebration resident Raymond Chiaramonte, the central location of the school is an important factor. In contrast to the conventional suburban community where he lived before, Chiaramonte no longer has to chauffeur his children to school or leisure time activities. Only when the family is rushed does it get in the car, and then the drive is only a few blocks, Chiaramonte says.

The controversy surrounding Celebration’s school and its progressive curriculum has caused some parents to forego the privilege of letting their children walk to school. “A lot of people pulled their children out of the school and put them in private schools that are not close by at all,” says resident Lance Boyer. “It may be that their driving has actually increased.” Boyer and his wife now drive their children to school, but at the same time have reduced in-town driving because “all the community activities are right in town.”

Unlike most new urbanist greenfield towns, Celebration reached critical mass quite rapidly and the commercial town center was integral to the community from the beginning. So people walk more, because there is somewhere to go. “Where we lived before, we would always have to take the car to get to a restaurant,” Chiaramonte says, “but now three out of four times we stay in Celebration.” Chiaramonte works in Tampa, 60 miles away, but is part of a van pool and never has to use his own car to get to work.

Even as the town grows and people move into the new North and South Villages further from the town center, Chiaramonte notes that a high percentage of people feel comfortable enough on the streets to ride their bicycles to activities downtown.

Risa Wight is one resident who has embraced the bicycle. She uses it not only to take her daughter to the local Montessori school but also to pick up goods at the grocery store and other businesses downtown. “It’s definitely true that people drive less here,” says Wight, who has lived in Celebration for two years. “A friend of mine recently told me that her young son complained that he hadn’t been in the car for a month.”

Wight adds that the design of the town makes it easy to get around, and that the active community life has established plenty of activities for both children and adults. Also important is southern Florida’s fair climate, which makes walking or riding a bike an attractive option year-round, Wight says.

Use of electric vehicles
Some Celebration residents have found neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to be a useful, alternative mode of transportation. Chiaramonte says NEVs are “glorified golf carts” that can be driven legally on roads with speeds limits of 25 miles per hour or less. They can seat up to six people, and special NEV parking places are now available in downtown Celebration.

Jackson and Sarah Mumey bought a NEV instead of a car for their 16-year-old daughter. “She and her brother drive to school in this, she uses it to drive around town, and we use it as a family vehicle when we just need to make a quick stop somewhere. While we still have two cars, we try to use the electric vehicle more,” Jackson Mumey says. Several of his friends have also acquired NEVs.

Celebration does not yet have a full-scale supermarket, so the family still drives across the highway from Celebration to get groceries and to find a hardware store. But inside the town, driving is not really needed, Mumey says. “We walk to dinner and the movies, and we walk to the school where we volunteer. I’m just turning in a lease on a car — it had 13,000 miles on it after 30 months.”

New York University Professor Andrew Ross lived for a year in Celebration and recounted his experiences in the book The Celebration Chronicles. in which he writes that some of the reduction in driving can be attributed to the fact that many of the Celebration pioneers are able to work out of their homes. Many also moved to the town with the intention of escaping the rat race and cutting down on their workload.

Ross adds that he has no doubt that the pedestrian-friendly infrastructure in Celebration also plays a role. But he cautions that the reduction in driving may not last. “Residents who moved in after 1998 may have a slightly different experience. They would be moving into urban villages in phases two and three that are non-contiguous with the central village, in which there is no real reason why anyone at all should drive. Accordingly, they will almost certainly use their cars more than the original pioneers.”

Health Forum intends to survey Celebration residents on a regular basis, so future responses may reveal if Ross’ prediction holds true.

Ross also maintains that Celebration may not be a typical example of new urbanist traffic use, because it sits in a relatively isolated location, surrounded by tourist sprawl.

If a new urbanist community like Celebration were connected to mass transit and surrounded by other urban neighborhoods, one would expect the impact on car use to be even greater.

The idea that getting out of the car and walking to the store or to school might contribute to people’s sense of community and quality of life is supported by the results of Health Forum’s survey. In addition to the vast majority who believe the town’s physical characteristics contribute to their quality of life, 96 percent agreed that the same characteristics promoted their family’s involvement in the community.

These Celebration residents came with high expectations for a new kind of town. Ninety-eight percent of respondents agreed that the feeling of community in Celebration has met their expectations.