In the garden of EPCOT.

Walt Disney - Wikimedia Commons, 02/18/2014

Walt Disney – Wikimedia Commons, 02/18/2014

The Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was Walt Disney’s unrealized dream. Sure, there’s a place called EPCOT down there in Orlando located within the vast city-unto-itself of Walt Disney World, but it isn’t Walt’s EPCOT. It aims in the same direction, but misses the mark by several yards. How so? Because Walt’s idea wasn’t a theme-park that resembled a City of Tomorrow, it was a City of Tomorrow that just happened to be planned near his theme parks. It was an actual plan for a technologically forward and green society that could be the model for the rest of the United States. The vision was huge – Walt didn’t do small. Interestingly enough, the idea wasn’t altogether new (then or now). In fact, Disney owes a great deal of his imagined City of Tomorrow to Ebenezer Howard and folks like Le’Corbusier’s Radiant City. We can’t talk about the future without talking about the past, it seems, and these imagineers seem to make that point clear. Lets take a look at some really nifty links, videos and articles that draw a line from the Garden Cities of Howard to the imagined implementations of the Disney age (and beyond), and other designs that have seen a similar influence.

Oh, and, please keep all hands and feet inside the ride at all times – for your safety, of course!

First, it would be discourteous to not give the man himself his due. Let’s let Mr. Disney give us an intro to this journey, in his own words. It’s not necessary to watch it in its entirety, but give Walt about 2 1/2 minutes (the rest is totally worth the watch though).

Now that we are all feeling utopi-ish, let’s take a look at where this idea germinated from.

The following article helps to provide some connection to the Disney design. It provides some interesting maps of Howard’s and Le’Corbusier’s cities, with a short synopsis for each. There’s also other key designers showcased who are definitely worthy of a look.

For further evaluation, try to put these two maps side by side to compare and contrast.

The link between Howard, Le’Corbusier, and Disney may be the 1939 world’s fair, and General Motor’s Futurama. The below article takes a rear-view look at the fair with its interesting historical backdrop – depression and war. And for fun, here’s a link to the video of the original To New Horizons reel promoting the Futurama event. Of special note, you’ll see there’s even places atop buildings to land all those auto-gyros we’d have in this future city.

Disney’s Idea seemed to fall in line with Howard’s idea of the “three magnets” to achieve the “Town and Country” feel. The article below discusses this at length, although Howard and Disney would likely have disagreed on how to pay for the city – Disney was a strong advocate of American Industry and a capitalist framework, where, as the article discusses, Howard likely had more social/co-op plans in mind.

England was the first to establish a Garden City with Letchworth. The International Garden Cities Exhibition is dedicated their legacy. Now, England is in the market for more of these cities.

The German city of Dresden also built an area in the early 1900’s called Hellenrau, which followed some of the tenets and features of Howard. Here is an interesting 3D fly-around of that Garden City today.

We’ve not seen anything as dramatic and technological as Disney’s EPCOT.

But there are some fantastic attempts at such a lofty goal. United Arab Emirates’ Masdar might be going after the spirit of it, even if it is in the desert. They don’t go up, but they do seem to be following some of the Garden City concepts while striving for something Walt might have envied. And to their credit, they are going for the sustainability mark.

This site has a fun 3D fly-through of Masdar.

While we might still be waiting for our Futurama, our Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, or some other yet unnamed beautiful garden megalopolis, there are at least efforts in that direction that key in on ideas that make a beautiful, sustainable, livable city environment. Still, while Walt might be amazed at what we’ve accomplished in some regards, I think both he and Howard would be a little disappointed that we’ve only be able to realize their visions in video games.

And perhaps that’s where it will stay for a while. At least we are still imagineering, if only in simulated environments. Besides, it’s far cheaper to design than to build, and money isn’t irrelevant.

Spaceship Earth at EPCOT - Wikimedia Commons, 02/16/2014

Spaceship Earth at EPCOT – Wikimedia Commons, 02/16/2014


One thought on “In the garden of EPCOT.

  1. Thanks Sean, I like your writing style.

    Despite their protestations to the contrary, I wonder if folks like Disney (Corbusier, et al) actually wanted a broad application of their design concepts? There seems to something awfully “proprietary” about their efforts — and not a lot warmth is shown for grassroots involvement.

    Doesn’t this speak volumes about their conception of the typical inhabitant of these model towns — happy, smiling, obedient, consuming… ghosts. We use the term “ephemera” to describe the temporary, inconsequential artifacts people use in their daily lives — things never meant to be saved or preserved (or in anyway influential upon the real world of grown ups) — but, I can’t help but see Walt’s (and Corbusier’s, and Wright’s, and all the others’) conception of the actual inhabitants of their model towns as *ephemera*.

    Perhaps this is why a lot of folks are creeped out by such ventures — not because they are overly-contrived (what suburban subdivision or city central district isn’t), but because they aren’t places for “real” people.

    To place this back into the “utop-ish” sicence fiction genre, the forgettable movie Demolition Man (1993) had a character especially written to counter this vision of model communities — the leader of the underground (literally, and figuratively) Edgar Friendly, played by Denis Leary. When asked his opinion about the “Cocteau Plan” (referencing the ideal above-ground city of San Angeles — actually just a bigger version of Disney’s EPCOT) he retorted:

    “You see, according to *Cocteau’s* plan. *I’m* the enemy. Because I like to think, I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech, freedom of choice. I’m the kind if guy who would sit in the greasy spoon and think “Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the big rack of Barbecued spare ribs with the side order of gravy fries?” I *want* high cholesterol. I want to eat bacon, butter and buckets of cheese alright? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in a non-smoking section. I wanna run around naked with green jell-o all over my body reading a Playboy magazine. Why? Because maybe I feel the need to okay pal? I’ve *seen* the future, you know what it is. It’s made by a 47 year-old virgin in gray pajamas soaking in a bubble bath, drinking a broccoli milkshake and thinking “I’m an Oscar-Meyer Wiener”. You wanna live on top, you gotta live Cocteau’s way. What he wants, when he wants, how he wants. Your other option: come down here, maybe starve to death.”

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