A brief history of the EPCOT Center and what it was meant to be

Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened 50 years ago this week. That’s great and all, but let’s talk about another Disney World anniversary with a lot more intrigue: the opening of the EPCOT Center on October 1, 1982.

The thing is, EPCOT was not meant to be an amusement park. It was initially proposed as a full-fledged “city of the future”, or, more precisely, an experimental community of prototypes of tomorrow (EPCOT).

The backstory: Walt Disney was often frustrated with modern city life. He allegedly complained that he was woken up by garbage collectors in the morning and rolled his eyes at the general filth of Los Angeles.

So being the guy with the golden ideas (Snow White with Seven dwarves? Brilliant), Walt Disney designed a master plan city that would exist as one of the pillars of the Disney World complex in Florida. As he explained in a 1966 presentation to Florida lawmakers, this city would be a “planned environment demonstrating to the world what American communities can accomplish through proper planning and design control.”

So what would the city look like?

  • It would be circular in shape. In the middle you will find a central hub with a convention center. From there, four more development rings would unfold with businesses, houses, apartments and green spaces.
  • The rail would have mono. Disney was obsessed with the monorail, which he introduced in 1959 on a much smaller scale at Disneyland in California, and was eager to take it to his new hometown.
  • It would be a “business city”. All citizens of the Tokens-esque city would work for the Disney company or companies that have worked with Disney.

Utopian dreams

Walt Disney was not the first nor the last ultra-rich person to try to harness the latest technology to create an urban utopia in his vision. In fact, several people are trying it out right now.

  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as “MBS,” has proposed a $ 500 billion desert city-state called Neom. If MBS’s plan comes true, employees will take drone taxis to work and Neom’s technological prowess will turn Silicon Valley into a lost hole.
  • And then there’s Telosa, the $ 400 billion city planned by billionaire e-commerce mogul Marc Lore on the premise of a “reformed view of capitalism.”

Most urban policy experts are skeptical that these utopian dreams will come true, given the extreme logistical hurdles (and the prices to pay) to start a city from scratch. After all, Walt Disney’s project fizzled out after his death in December 1966.

The Disney team turned to a theme park that, while not itself a city of the future, celebrates human achievement, technological advancement, and the promise of dreaming big. –MM

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