Walt Disney World
A History in Postcards
Chapter 5 EPCOT Center Page 1: If we can dream it ... Origins of E.P.C.O.T.
The last few years of Walts' life one of his biggest interests appears to have been American cities, what their problems were and what solutions could be found. This partly may have stemmed from his distaste for the way the area around Disneyland developed in the first few years after it opened. Orange county, Californias growth exploded in those years and with it's rapid growth faced traffic and crime problems. To this end Walt wanted to build a model city of Tomorrow where ideas could be tested to make a more livable, city. Even after his death his idea lived. One of the early press releases described the plans for the complex , this press release coincided with the showing of a film to Florida legislators which had been prepared before Walt's death about his plans for the Florida project. Although this film has never seen a general release by Disney copies of it have slipped out and it has popped up on the internet you can see it now...my connection speed is just too slow to try it http://www.waltopia.com look in the left column, about halfway down the page under "features" where it says: EPCOT Film
The press release reads (in part) as follows.

Basic elements of the proposed development include a new theme park similar to the world-famous Disneyland in California; a series of theme motels surrounding and compatible to the theme park development; outdoor sports centers for golf, tennis, boating, and camping, and other recreational activities which will take advantage of and preserve the natural beauty of the area; That passage pretty much describes the first phase of the resort as it was built, they did reduce the number of hotel rooms built (the planned Venetian, Asian, and Persian resort) and you could argue that contributed to the growth just outside Disney's perimeter of the same kind of sprawl seen in California, though it is also possible to say much of that growth may have come anyway people were going to try to make money off this new development and some of them may have not been deterred no matter how many rooms Disney built, after all it is hard to see Disney building all those fabulously theme hotels then being able to price them low enough to discourage outside development. Still that was not all that was called for in that early press release it went on to list other things planned for the 43 square mile parcel of land "an industrial park covering about 1000 acres, planned as " a showplace to the world of American industry"; a Jet Airport of the Future offering service to private and executive planes, commercial charters, and freight carriers; an Entrance complex to receive and service the millions of visitors expected annually; and an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, planned for 20,000 permanent residents." The press release went on to say:

"Designed to serve an initial population of 20,000 EPCOT will be a living showcase for the creativity of American industry. In its endless task of depicting urban life 25 years into the future, EPCOT will never be completed but will always be introducing, testing and demonstrating new technologies.
"Our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow will always be in a state of becoming," said Disney in the film. "It will never cease to be a blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can't find anywhere else today."

Thus, the goal of this balanced working community will be to establish new standards of design, never borrowing from patented modes of living.

"I don't believe there's a challenge any more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities." continued Disney. "But where do we begin? Well, we're convinced that we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of cities. we thing the need is starting from scratch on virgin land like this, and building a community that will be a prototype of the future."

That's quite an impressive plan and as much as I would have like to see it appear in a form more similar to the one originally envisioned, I wonder if I would have been less interested in WDW if it only featured the Magic Kingdom theme park and most of the rest of the property had been developed as a city of the future.
There is a great page on the original plans for Epcot at Mike Lees' Widen Your World web site http://home.cfl.rr.com/omniluxe/epcot.htm
Although a "city of Tomorrow" wasn't built, it can be argued that many of those same goals were still pursued; in the way the resort itself is operated, the town of Celebration, and of course in the building of EPCOT CENTER. In the way the resort itself is run I think of the system of canals and levees which not only help to prevent flooding but also maintain ground water levels, the water Hyacinth project, which grows water hyacinths at the WDW wastewater facility, then recycles the plants for fertilizer. The system of Underground service corridors under the Magic Kingdom and the system which uses vacuum power to move the waste from the Magic Kingdoms collection areas to their central collection area. The town of Celebration is an attempt to make a more livable space the guidelines used in that community are trying out new ways of doing things, yet retaining things that folks like about some of the older towns. And of course Epcot itself does have many American companies as sponsers that do want to show off thier creativity. so perhaps you can say it is " a living showcase for the creativity of American industry. ".

On the balance, would I have rather seen Walt's city built? Why sure, but without Walt it is not hard for me to see why the folks in charge after his passing were disuaded from building it. They may have been afraid, it would have been a huge gamble, with Walt in charge he could have pushed for it he gambled with the company for most of his life. In fact he had ran a company that went bankrupt before he started the studios, he was not risk averse. Without Walt who would be so bold to risk losing it all...like Walt selling his Palm Springs home and borowing against his life insurance to get Disneyland built? And if they lost the bet they might feel an even greater shame at losing somthing so great that someone else had built up...if Walt lost it was, I am guessing he may have felt, his to lose. Even if you take into account that he had stockholders, they were after all, investing in a company named for him, if they did not feel comfortable with the choices he made that probably was not where they should be invested. But can you imagine how it would have been if EPCOT had been built as a city of Tomorrow and failed? The concencus might have been that E. Cardon Walker had run "the house that Walt built" into the ground. So with that in mind it is not too hard for me to sit back and enjoy what eventually was built when it was decided to do something to try to live up to that dream of Walts. Even the original name EPCOT Center showed that was the intent, they chose the term "center" in part to suggest that this was to show off the ideas of a potentially wider EPCOT.

taken from a Walt Disney Productions press release of February 2, 1967 qouted in Florida's Disney World: Promises and Problems by Leonard Zehnder. pages 85-86

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Last modified by Brian K Martsolf at 8:41 PM on 9/24/2003