It’s actually very interesting that the Walt Disney Company has such a long history and interest, in utopian city planning. But what’s even more interesting, is that some of their ideas have also been built for real.
Walt Disney (1901-1966) had (like so many other businessmen of the 20th century) many visionary ideas in many fields of life. Thanks to the great financial successes in entertainment business, he (again, like so many other businessmen of the 20th century) saw that also more utopian ventures were in his grasp.
The word disneyfication is mostly used to describe the transformation of society (or historical city centers) to resemble theme parks. With that in mind, Disney has actually been quite serious in developing real cities for the future. In the 1960’s they started to work on plans for a Community of Tomorrow.
The future community was to be placed in Florida (illustration from the Rotarian magazine, 1968). In Walt Disney’s own words the community was also as a social utopia, with modernism’s necessary figure Authority hovering in the background:
“It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won’t let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.”
The shining city was to become a reality in the EPCOT Center. This Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was a take on creating a model city for 20 000 inhabitants. Everything was based on the newest imaginable technology, with monorails shuttling people around in the circular master plan. Car traffic was to be allowed only underground, leaving the ground level free for pedestrians.
Some 1970’s Epcot concepts (via progresscityusa.com, see link for more pics)
After Walt Disney’s death however, the company had no more special (or personal) interest in developing future communities. The Epcot was opened in 1982 and it became more or less of a futuristic world’s fair theme park, not the utopian city it was originally planned to be.
Concept for Germany pavilion, serious world’s fair kitch for sure, but a sign of the change of direction in the Epcot project.
Still today, the Walt Disney Imagineering division represents a sizable brigade of planning and design professionals. Despite having made the departure from the utopia business for decades, in early 1990’s, however, Disney started to work on Celebration, a new small town in vicinity of Disney’s World Resort in Osceola, Florida. (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri)
I remember Celebration being quite a hot topic some years ago (see Naomi Klein, for instance). It was said to be the ultimate achievement of brand thinking. But I think the truth is that there are already many Celebration-like places out there, born from the visions of creating an appealing and comfortable lifestyle. The controlled, purportedly safe, green and pretty communities are trying to replicate a romanticized view of the past, while ironically of course, in the historical continuum of modern ideas and ambitions, Celebration is in fact, the successor of the community of the future.