Over Reading Week, I was lucky enough to get a break from this bizarre Montreal spring, and spend a few days in Orlando. During my time there, I visited the town of Celebration, Florida — a master-planned community originally built and owned by Disney. Although the corporation has divested in the majority of its control of Celebration over the past decade, both the town, and the vision that it was built upon, remain. The controlled nature of the town is reminiscent of certain visions for McGill which have recently been brought to the fore.
The town of Celebration began its construction in the 1990s; it was conceived as a return to the American values of yore, and born from nostalgia for a simpler time. Indeed, driving through residential Celebration, this aesthetic is constantly present. White picket fences abound. Perched on the curb outside of each home is a small, classic mailbox. Although the houses themselves range in both size and shape, none could be classified as anything less than picturesque—Rockwellian, even. Transitioning downtown, there is an array of small shops, coffee houses, bars, and restaurants. Some carry familiar brands, while others seem to be independently owned. A large American flag waves proudly at the centre of a small park.
Somewhere amidst the blissful small-town atmosphere, however, is the nagging feeling that something is amiss. The colour schemes from house to house are too perfectly complimentary with one another. On the trees and bushes that adorn each property, there is not a leaf or a branch out of place. Every lawn is kept meticulously tidy. For some, the result of such orchestrated precision is idyllic. To my eyes, it seemed cold and soulless; a town stripped of all the imperfections that normally give a place character and individuality.
This level of coordination is made possible by the private ownership of the community. In order to maintain the town’s image of American perfection, everything from landscaping to transportation is carefully regulated. A resident who fails to comply with the community’s rules is issued a fine; severe or repeated infractions can lead to dismissal from the town. Extreme as it may seem, that’s the price of keeping such a vision intact.
This notion of sacrificing individuality and personal preference for the good of a greater whole is not unique by any means; on some level, it is the foundation for modern society—our legal system, taxation structure, and welfare state. In moderation, it ensures an enduring and functioning society. In more extreme situations, it can greatly impede people’s ability to ensure that their own beliefs are reflected to any measure. This is the point at which the cost of such a system outweighs its benefits.
McGill’s Statement of Values Concerning Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, which was approved by Senate last week, and its Operating Procedures Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations, which do not require approval of any sort, offer us a vision for our university that has a lot in common with what I witnessed in Celebration. In exchange for our right to safely and legally protest under clear and defined parameters, we are offered a supposedly stable and safer environment. In the eyes of the administration, this is an idyllic conception of our campus, one worth the community’s sacrifice. To me, however, a campus that is allowed to be messy at times, and to fairly reflect the community’s values is something to be fought for.