Has Disney become something that Walt wouldn't recognize?


The dream city factory

Was Walt Disney a gifted city planner? Can the stringency of its theme parks be transferred to a metropolis? He tried it in the last major project before his death. The “Experimental Prototype Community of Tommorow” was to become an experimental laboratory for urban planning as well as for industry - and, according to Robert Moses, the first accident-free, noise-free, pollutant-free city in America

Text: Gennawey, Sam, Pasadena

Walt Disney first rose to fame as an animator and later became a successful film and television producer. For city planners, however, Disney's greatest achievement was Disneyland. In a keynote address to the Urban Design Conference at Harvard University in 1960, James W. Rouse put it in a nutshell: “I have an opinion that may sound a bit shocking to such a select audience: that the greatest example of urban design in what is now the United States is Disneyland. When you look at what Disneyland does in relation to its purpose, what it means to people - yes, what it means to our development as a whole - you will recognize it as the pre-eminent urban example in the United States. "

It was not a layman speaking. James Rouse was one of the most influential and successful real estate developers for the past fifty years. Rouse created shopping centers on former industrial sites that were strongly narrative. He also developed the concept of the “festival marketplace”, as it has been implemented in the Faneuil Hall in Boston, in the Harborplace in Baltimore and in the South Street Seaport district in New York City; He was also instrumental in the design and construction of the planned cities of Columbia in Maryland and Reston in Virginia. Rouse went on to explain why he was able to make such a bold claim: “Walt took one functional area - the theme park - and raised it to such a high level of what he did, the way that how it served the needs of the people so that something really new came out of it. It fulfills all purposes that one has set out to do, self-confident, useful and profitable for owners and developers. ”He assured his audience:“ From the standards that were set in the development of Disneyland and from the goals that were set have been achieved, I can learn more than from any other piece of development in the country. "

So what would have happened if Walt Disney had built its own town? He tried. In 1959 he seriously toyed with the idea for the first time. Disney bumped into the random development around its Anaheim park. He called it a "second rate Las Vegas". Then the eccentric billionaire John D. MacArthur offered him nearly 5,000 acres in Palm Beach, Florida, on which he could build 162 acres of East Coast Disneyland - and the city it was to surround. Upon receiving the offer, Disney read everything it could find on urban planning. His insatiable curiosity led him to the writings of Ebenezer Howard, who is considered to be the inventor of the garden city, and to Sweden's capital Stockholm with its satellite cities. The design that he finally submitted was heavily influenced by what the Viennese architect and urban planner Victor Gruen had for the 1964 Washington D.C. planned world exhibition. Ultimately, the exhibition, to whose success Disney contributed significantly, took place in New York. But the plans for a fan-shaped city with a population of 100,000, which should have emerged after the end of the exhibition using the existing infrastructure, were memorized by Disney.

The experimental city

Disney's brother Roy went to Florida to close the deal with MacArthur, but negotiations failed and MacArthur withdrew. But Disney was fixated on the idea now and looked for another location in Florida. After extensive research, he anonymously acquired 11,000 hectares of land in central Florida, near the small town of Orlando. He called his city project EPCOT, "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow". He was convinced that the problems of our cities could be solved through respectful urban planning based on timeless principles and technical innovations. EPCOT would give companies the opportunity to test their products under realistic conditions and present their benefits to a large public - all under the Disney halo. All apartments in this model city would be well equipped with the latest equipment. The residents would take part in “focus groups” in order to assess the market opportunities of the new technologies. An internal report said, “American industry will bring it to life. It will be a 'thought project', not a 'think tank'. And it's not just about thinking - this is where these things will actually work. ”That was quite realistic, after all, Disney's entire career was based on using technology before his contemporaries saw its potential. He was always years ahead of the competition because he used sound-image synchronization, color, the multiplan camera (which gave animated films a depth) and other technologies at an early stage and successfully. So it is not surprising that it seemed so appealing to him to build a city that would "become a showcase for the whole world", "in which free American entrepreneurship can present itself."

Disney's “experimental city” was to become a world without optical contradictions, in which visitors could leave the chaotic hustle and bustle of everyday life behind. This architecture of insurance was the hallmark of Disney design developed at Disneyland. It made visitors relax and be open to whatever was ahead of them. A 1958 New York Times article said Disney had “created the same willingness to be persuaded that has always been the secret of theatre's success.” It also said, “In theater, realism is not the key Component, but the mixture of reality and fantasy. The entertainer invites the audience to meet him halfway. This is exactly what has been successfully achieved in Disneyland. ”At a press conference in November 1965, Walt Disney said:“ I would like to build a model community, in a sense a city of tomorrow, because I don't believe in this extremely unrealistic stuff like some architects. I think people still want ... to live like people. "

Conservation and calculation

Walt Disney personally developed the overall concept, from which one no longer deviated significantly as the planning process progressed. In his first sketch he marked the development areas and placed the most important functional areas and traffic junctions. From this rough sketch to the final plan, which was prepared shortly before his death, the basic arrangement of land uses remained more or less the same. As Disney said, "There's more than enough land here for all of our ideas and plans." EPCOT would have been the heart of Disney World. The different areas of "Disney's World" were arranged along a multimodal transit corridor running from south to north. At the south end, at the intersection of Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike (which was then called the Sunshine State Parkway), would be the entrance complex. At the north end would be the Magic Kingdom theme park, which would attract visitors like a light bulb to a moth. In between was an industrial park and the city of EPCOT. The built-up areas along the traffic corridor were delimited on three sides - in the north, east and west - by natural areas.

The design process preceded the publication of Design with Nature (1969) by Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg, but followed similar principles. Disney planner Marvin Davis initially identified ecologically sensitive areas that they absolutely wanted to preserve. The natural wetlands on the edge of the site served to delimit the development corridor and as a scenic buffer zone that protected the city from directly adjacent buildings. They have been permanently designated as nature reserves. Next, additional open spaces were selected that allowed a somewhat more subjective assessment: Areas that could be built on but should not be built on because they had other advantages for the project, including an aesthetic value. Disney showed foresight here. Within these open spaces there would be smaller areas dedicated to controlled growth. Development areas were subordinate to the natural areas worth preserving. In addition to the theme park, the city and the industrial park, resorts, a golf course and a "swamp ride" to visit the wetlands were planned.

Sometimes the function of a particular facility dictated its location. Disney explained that the theme park had to be at the northern end of the area, so that visitors could only reach it if they had crossed the other areas beforehand. The entrance complex, in turn, had to be close to the major highways and the jetport away from the areas where most of the people were. This arrangement meant that one of the most flood-prone areas had to be built with the theme park. Therefore, much of the agricultural land on the outskirts of the city was dedicated to the complex drainage system that enabled the development Disney wanted. This system consists of 70 kilometers of canals, 29 kilometers of dykes, 13 water control systems and more than 4,000 hectares that serve as drainage in lakes, waterways and wetlands. The system was so well laid out that the neighboring properties never flooded.

The local traffic puzzle

Disney wanted to build the ultimate "Transit Oriented Development" with density, design and diversity. Visitors who came to Orlando by plane could land at Jetport, Disney's own "Airport of the Future" in Osceola County. Those arriving by car would probably park at the entrance complex. Others would drive straight to their destination via a network of roads that ran under the monorail. The high-speed local transport system of the monorail would run almost the entire length of the area. However, it was not only used for transportation. Disney found it important to give visitors a glimpse of upcoming attractions - be it their films, their TV show, or the theme park. So he made the monorail run in such a way that it drove through all areas of the city on the way to the theme park. Additional routes were planned for a later phase, which would lead to several motel clusters and a less densely built-up area.

The first stop for most visitors would be the entrance complex and registration center. From there, they would use Disney transportation, just like Disney's. He knew Disney World and EPCOT had to be designed to reflect the realities of the car, but he hoped that car residents and visitors would be willing to leave it if they could find an attractive, efficient form of Local transport would be offered. Disney had enough human knowledge to know that visitors were like water; they would always seek the path of least resistance.

All roads and modes of transport would lead to the multi-story “Transportation Lobby”, the heart of EPCOT. There, visitors could easily find their way around and change trains. The lowest level would be reserved for supply vehicles, the middle level for car traffic, and the top level for the railway system that would run over the pedestrian walkways. The design primarily took into account the needs of pedestrians and those using local public transport and was intended to discourage the use of cars.

The monorail had been in operation at Disneyland since 1959 and had proven that it worked reliably and offered high quality service. Walt Disney was convinced that with her he had found the transport technology backbone for his city. The “WEDway PeopleMover System” was the answer to another crucial piece of the local transport puzzle. Disney needed a reliable intermediary transportation system star-shaped around the transportation lobby. The PeopleMover, a further development of the transportation system used at the New York World's Fair from 1964–65, had minimal headway times. Passengers would never have to wait more than three minutes for the next train, and if a train wasn't already in the station, the passenger could push a button to call you. If demand declined, excess trains would be moved back to the depot. In a film produced shortly before Walt Disney's death in 1966, the announcer stated: “Here pedestrians will be king, they will be able to stroll around without fear of motorized vehicles. Only electric vehicles will drive the streets of EPCOTS Central City. "New York City" Super Planner "Robert Moses was so impressed with the concept that he claimed EPCOT would become" America's first accident-free, noise-free, pollution-free city center " become.

High density versus suburbia

The most striking structure in the city would be the approximately 20 hectare, elliptical city center. From its center, just above the transportation lobby, would protrude the 30-story, mixed-use Cosmopolitan Hotel (designed by architect George Rester). An aerial view of this building was thought to have been designed by the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger's drawn eyeball outlined. Building on the success of Victor Gruen's indoor shopping malls and the Astrodome in Houston, Disney wanted to cover the streets in the center to protect its guests from the hot Florida summers - and to have complete control of the space. That would make EPCOT a prototype that could be reproduced anywhere.

Within the center, around 8.7 hectares (43 percent) would be reserved for retail and catering. The local transport network and other public facilities would take up 6.5 hectares (32 percent); the remaining 5 hectares (25 percent) would have other uses, such as offices, a television studio, banks, service companies and storage areas. In addition, there are urban functions such as municipal administration, a fire brigade, post office, library and a hospital. Along the outer edge of the covered facility, the branches of the companies involved in the project and another ring with apartment blocks would be in a densely built-up ring. Beyond that there is a green belt with leisure facilities for all age groups, churches and spacious parking areas as well as loosely built-up residential areas.

When asked why there were areas with low density at all, the involved planner Harrison Price confided to the author in a conversation: "Walt wanted a place where his friends could live." It was clear to Disney that some people prefer to live in Living in single-family homes and wanting unrestricted access to their cars. After all, the project was designed at a time when the suburban lifestyle was booming. In keeping with the garden city concept and the layout of cities such as Radburn, New Jersey, the streets of the single-family home area run behind the houses and are arranged around dead ends. The apartment door of each house would face the green area on the other side of the parking lot. But unlike other suburbs of the 1950s, EPCOT would offer multiple local transit options to lure residents out of these cars. For most of them, bicycles, small electric scooters or the PeopleMover would be the main means of transport.

Entertainment and industry

The entire EPCOT project would cover almost 450 hectares. The futuristic hotel, which had an almost three hectare leisure deck with swimming pools, trees and waterfalls, was to become its icon, just like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella Castle are for the theme parks. The different areas of the "Town Center Entertainment District" would be dedicated to different parts of the world. They were arranged radially around the hotel like flower petals, separated from the lines of the elevated WEDway PeopleMover. Visitors could view the different neighborhoods from the train and then decide which to explore. According to master planner Marvin Davis, each themed street would occupy a block that would be 450 meters long. The Town Center should offer metropolitan life, with a mixture of carefully combined retail, dining and high-level entertainment.A variety of uses and a few “little surprises” should make visitors want to come back.

In addition to the millions of visitors, EPCOT would also be home to 20,000 residents. Most would live in the four- to six-story, densely packed apartment blocks around the town center. This combination automatically guaranteed the shopping center a critical mass of visitors all year round. The real estate business is all about numbers. EPCOT wasn't a fantasy city. The project was
rooted in the reality of the market. Walt Disney may have been a visionary, but he was also a businessman and he wanted to make money.

The 400-acre industrial park, strategically located between the entrance and the transportation lobby to attract visitors, was modeled on the Stanford Industrial Park (1951) in Palo Alto, California. Stanford University had developed the area in order to utilize the results obtained at the university in science and technology and to increase its reputation as an important research institution. She combined two things that were actually antithetical: the industry and a park, with which she invented a new category of land use, which is now known as an "industrial park". Disney historian Paul Anderson said, "Walt knew that the only way to make his dream of EPCOT a reality was to involve American industry, and this complex was just one of many strategies to incentivize it."

Each industrial park cluster would consist of five or six large two-story buildings across from an elevated PeopleMover train station. The buildings were shaped like pieces of cake, the narrow sides of which faced the train station. The main entrance to each building opened onto a well-designed public square that encircled the base of the station. On the square would be
In the course of the morning there was a lot of activity, with a mixture of professionals and visitors who would use the shopping and dining options practically located under the train station.

Domestic are forbidden

Disney convinced Florida lawmakers to grant Walt Disney Productions unprecedented zoning and building rights in the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Permanent living would not have been allowed here. Like a cruise ship, employees from Disney and its corporate partners lived on the premises for a limited time and then would be forced to move. "There will be no landowners," Disney explained. “People will rent houses at moderate prices instead of buying them.” He added, “There will be no retirees because everyone has to work according to their skills. One of our requirements is that the people who live in EPCOT must help keep it alive. "

Would that have worked? The question must remain unanswered. There were a lot of risks and unanswered questions. Would people be willing to live in a model city? How would Disney handle parenting and education issues? Are there schools? Would the project turn into the gloomy vision of a corporate town like Pullman, Illinois or Fordlandia in Brazil, where corporations tried in vain to be good landlords and workers rebelled against the tutelage of their employer?

The group that worked on the EPCOT project was very small. One of her was Harrison Price. He says: “Walt could almost compulsively deal with a problem.” If he wanted to implement an idea, he would calculate all eventualities, devour masses of specialist literature and call in experts. Price sees EPCOT's concept and design as not revolutionary, but evolutionary, based on proven architectural technologies and a well thought-out mix of uses. EPCOT was arranged in such a way that hotel and day guests coming from one direction would meet residents coming from another direction in the middle. This was supposed to create an urban community in whose facility the critical mass for sustainable economic success was already built in. Walt Disney's EPCOT should allow everyone to interact in a comfortable, safe, and inspiring public setting. When Price was asked by the author if he thought EPCOT worked, he replied, “Absolutely. The city would have been more famous than Walt Disney World. "

Instead of a city, Walt Disney Productions built a theme park, resort hotels and a permanent world exhibition after Disney's death. Later, a large area on the southern border was developed in order to build the city of Celebration there. With little reference to Walt Disney's progressive vision, the New Urbanism-style project was intended to evoke small-town America and sell houses at top prices. The area was spun off from the Reedy Creek Improvement District so as not to weaken Disney's voting rights.