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Disney is developing planned communities for fans who never want to leave its clutches

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Concept art for Disney’s first planned “Storyliving” community: Cotino, California.
Image: Disney

Disney has launched a new business for fans who can’t bear to leave the pristine, family-friendly world the corporation has nurtured through its theme parks and media ventures.

“Storyliving by Disney” will operate as part of the company’s theme parks division, developing a series of master-planned communities for residential living, designed by Disney’s creative staff and offering the same pampered tranquility found in its resorts.

“Picture an energetic community with the warmth and charm of a small town and the beauty of a resort,” said Disney Parks, Experiences and Products exec Helen Pak in a promotional video.

Only one location has been announced so far: a community of 1,900 housing units named Cotino that will be built in the city of Rancho Mirage in California’s Coachella Valley (a location where Walt Disney himself once lived).

Concept art for Cotino shows villas, condos, and housing complexes clustered around a 24-acre “grand oasis,” which Disney says will offer “clear turquoise waters” powered by the Crystal Lagoons technology deployed at its resorts. Amenities will include “shopping, dining, and entertainment,” as well as a beachfront hotel and clubhouse hosting “Disney programming, entertainment and activities throughout the year.”

Members of the public will be able to visit Cotino by purchasing day passes, while a section of the development will be set aside for residents aged 55 and up. Prices for accommodation and financing options have not been announced, and Disney has also yet to share when construction will begin or when residents might be able to move in.

As reported by USA Today, although Disney is branding and marketing these communities, it will not own, build, or sell the homes. Instead, it will be partnering with third-party developers to carry out this work.

Cotino, for example, is being built by DMB Development, a company that’s constructed a number of luxury communities in the US and abroad. These include Silverleaf, Arizona (“a private haven of rare grace and refinement”) and Kukuiʻula in Hawaii (“a place for discerning families who seek to balance luxury with the laid-back lifestyle and awe-inspiring beauty of our island home”).

It’s also not the first time Disney has explored residential developments like this. In 1996, it opened the gates of Celebration, Florida, a master-planned community near Walt Disney World Resort, and in 2011 opened its luxury Golden Oak resort in the same state, where prices for homes originally started at $1.6 million. And famously, Walt Disney himself wanted to develop a utopian “city of the future” named Epcot (standing for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”).

Not all of these communities have been successes, though. The hugely ambitious original plans for Epcot were never fulfilled (though the concept’s legacy lives on in various ways in Disney’s resorts and parks), while Celebration, Florida, suffers all sorts of mundane and un-magical problems like leaks and mold (Disney itself is not responsible for maintenance).

With this latest venture, Disney apparently wants to revisit its residential dreams while focusing on the vague and eternally sunny concept of “storytelling.” As the company’s chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Josh D’Amaro, puts it in a blog post, its new communities are all about “expanding storytelling to storyliving” (hence the name.)

What exactly that means in practice isn’t clear. Is “storytelling” just the company’s way of saying “you’ll have a really nice life if you pay us a lot of money,” or is it planning something nearer to the brand of lightweight immersive theater deployed in its parks and themed hotels? A report from USA Today hints at something more than just immaculate service:

“Every single element of these communities will be steeped in a story,” D’Amaro notes. The residents, he says, will be active participants in the stories.

Maybe, instead of being drawn into skits with hosts dressed up as Goofy or Elsa, Disney’s “Storyliving” residents will be able to take part in more grounded adventures, as staff who never break character help them navigate mid-life crises and suburban ennui. Why pay for therapy if you can turn your life into theater? A happy ending can be written for you.