Revisiting Walt Disney’s surprisingly radical vision for Epcot

i 1 90681636 no cars no unemployment walt disneyand8217s surprisingly radical vision of the city of tomorrow

Since Epcot’s inception, tens of millions of vacationers have descended upon the theme park well-known for its Spaceship Earth geodesic sphere and its celebration of worldwide cultures.

However the model of Epcot guests encounter at Disney World—at present within the midst of its 50th anniversary celebrations—is hardly what Walt Disney imagined.

In 1966, Disney introduced his intention to construct Epcot, an acronym for “Experimental Prototype Neighborhood of Tomorrow.” It was to be no mere theme park however, as Disney put it, “the creation of a residing blueprint for the long run” in contrast to “anyplace else on this planet”—a complete new metropolis constructed from scratch.

Disney died later that yr; his vision was scaled down, after which scrapped altogether. However after I was writing my book on urban idealism in America, I used to be drawn to this deliberate neighborhood.


Because the arrival of the primary colonists, People have experimented with new patterns of settlement. Imagining new sorts of locations to reside is an American custom, and Disney was an keen participant.

A metropolis of the long run

A captivating 25-minute film produced by Walt Disney Enterprises stays the most effective window into Walt’s vision.

In it, Disney—talking kindly and slowly, as if to a gaggle of youngsters—detailed what would develop into of the 27,400 acres, or 43 sq. miles, of central Florida that he had acquired.

Echoing the rhetoric of American pioneers, he famous how the abundance of land was the important thing. Right here, he would obtain all that might not be achieved at Disneyland, his first theme park in Anaheim, California, which opened in 1955 and had since been encroached upon by speedy suburban growth. He proudly identified that the land on which Disney World could be constructed was twice the dimensions of the island of Manhattan and 5 occasions bigger than Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom.

Among the many exceptional parts of Disney’s Epcot could be a neighborhood of 20,000 residents residing in neighborhoods that might double as a showcase of business and civic ingenuity—a operating experiment in planning, constructing design, administration, and governance. There could be a 1,000-acre workplace park for creating new applied sciences, and when, say, an innovation in fridge design could be developed, each family in Epcot could be the primary to obtain and check the product earlier than it was launched for the remainder of the world.

An airport would allow anybody to fly on to Disney World, whereas a “trip land” would supply resort lodging for guests. A central arrival advanced included a 30-story resort and conference heart, with the downtown that includes a weather-protected zone of themed retailers.


Epcot’s extra modest wage-earners would be capable to reside close by in a hoop of high-rise condominium buildings. And there could be a park belt and leisure zone surrounding this downtown space, separating the low-density, cul-de-sac neighborhoods past that might home nearly all of residents. There could be no unemployment, and it was to not be a retirement neighborhood.

“I don’t imagine there’s a problem anyplace on this planet that’s extra vital to individuals all over the place than discovering options to the issues of our cities,” Disney stated.

‘New Cities’ abound

Through the Sixties, the aspiration of constructing anew was a lot within the air.

People have been turning into more and more involved about the well-being of the nation’s cities. They usually have been unhappy with the trouble—and, particularly, the consequences—of urban renewal.

They felt insecure within the face of rising urban poverty, unrest, and crime, and annoyed about growing site visitors congestion. Households continued to move to the suburbs, however planners, opinion leaders, and even unusual residents raised considerations about consuming a lot land for low-density growth.

“Sprawl,” as a pejorative term for poorly deliberate growth, was gaining foreign money as a fledgling environmental motion emerged. In his common Sixties ballad “Little Boxes,” Pete Seeger sang of “Little containers on the hillside, little containers product of ticky cheesy” to criticize the uniform suburban and exurban tracts of housing rippling out from America’s cities.

A hope emerged that constructing new cities may be an alternate for unlovely and unloved metropolis neighborhoods and for soulless peripheral subdivisions.

Self-described “city founders,” most of them rich businesspeople with beliefs depending on actual property success, led America’s New Towns movement. As Disney was getting ready for his Epcot presentation, the Irvine Company was already deep into the method of creating the holdings of the previous Irvine Ranch into the mannequin city of Irvine, California. At present, Irvine boasts nearly 300,000 residents.

Irvine, California, was constructed on a ranch. [Photo: Charles O’Rear/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wiki Commons]

In the meantime, actual property entrepreneur Robert E. Simon offered New York’s Carnegie Corridor and, along with his earnings, purchased 6,700 acres of farmland exterior of Washington, D.C., so he could create Reston, Virginia. Fifty miles away, buying heart developer James Rouse started planning Columbia, Maryland. And oil trade investor George P. Mitchell, keeping track of the successes and setbacks of Rouse and Simon, would soon take advantage of a new federal funding program and embark on establishing The Woodlands, close to Houston, which right now has a inhabitants of over 100,000 individuals.

These new cities hoped to include the liveliness and variety of cities whereas retaining the intimacy of neighborhoods and different charms related to small cities.

Disney’s dream right now

Disney, nonetheless, didn’t need to merely spruce up current suburbs.


He wished to upend preexisting notions of how a metropolis might be constructed and run. And for all of its utopian promise, the genius of Disney’s Epcot was that all of it appeared doable—an agglomeration of parts generally present in any fashionable metropolitan space, however fused right into a singular vision and managed by a single authority.

An vital innovation was the banishing of the auto. An unlimited underground system was designed to allow automobiles to reach, park, or buzz beneath town with out being seen. A separate underground layer would accommodate vans and repair features. Residents and guests would traverse the complete 12-mile size of Disney World and all of its points of interest on a high-speed monorail, way more in depth than something achieved at Disneyland.

In the car-crazed America of the 1960s, this was a very radical concept.

Given Walt Disney’s legendary tenacity, it will have been fascinating to witness how far his vision would have superior. After his dying, some sought to satisfy his plans. However when urged by a Disney designer to hold by way of on Walt’s broader civic-minded vision, Walt’s brother Roy, who had taken the reins of the corporate, answered, “Walt is useless.”

At present, Disney’s utopian spirit is alive and properly. You see it in former Walmart govt Marc Lore’s ambitions to build a 5-million-person city called “Telosa” in a U.S. desert, and Blockchains LLC’s proposal for a self-governing “smart city” in Nevada.

However extra typically, you’ll see efforts that faucet into the nostalgia of a bucolic previous. The Disney Company did, actually, develop a town during the 1990s on certainly one of its Florida landholdings.

Dubbed “Celebration,” it was initially heralded as an exemplar of the turn-of-the century motion referred to as New Urbanism, which sought to design suburbs in ways in which conjured up the small American city: walkable neighborhoods, a city heart, a variety of housing decisions, and fewer dependence on automobiles.

Nevertheless, Celebration has no monorail or underground transport networks, no hubs of technological innovation or insurance policies like common employment.

That form of metropolis of tomorrow, it appears, must wait.

Alex Krieger is a analysis professor in follow of city design, Harvard University. This text is republished from The Conversation beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.