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Walt Disney's Planned Future Utopian City That Never Was (1966)

We may think that Disneyland is the crowning achievement of America's greatest entrepreneur-animator-filmmaker Walt Disney. Not all...

We may think that Disneyland is the crowning achievement of America's greatest entrepreneur-animator-filmmaker Walt Disney. Not all of us know that he also envisioned a future utopian city that Americans should probably embrace. Before his death in 1966, he has already laid the plans and groundwork of his so-called "Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow" (EPCOT) where residents will have total autonomy within its borders so they can live and work for him using next-generation home technology and innovative socio-political ideas.

Disney believed that EPCOT will be a community of tomorrow where it will have endless and continues application of new materials and new systems under rigorous testing and demonstration. He even encouraged many industries and corporations to collaborate and join this endeavor.

Envisioning Utopia

Disney kick-started his utopian city plan in 1964 when secretly purchased up to 27,000 acres of land outside Orlando, Florida. These secret deals were initiated in order to purchase lands from unsuspecting landowners at a much cheaper price. Interestingly, those lands would eventually become part of the Disney prototype district.

An Autonomous City

Once the purchased lands have been incorporated, Disney wanted more independence in developing his own community with an unprecedented quasi-government control. It's just like governing his own city-state like a despot in Ancient Greece.

In 1967, he convinced the Florida State Legislature to sign over municipal jurisdiction over the land he acquired that was named "The Reedy Creek Improvement District." As a result, Disney can now do whatever he see fit on the land he possessed without government scrutiny. We even considered having his own nuclear power plant!

He can now issue tax-free bonds for internal improvements since the district is now exempted from state zoning and land use laws. Even today, this 38.6 square mile area within the outer limits of the Orange and Osceola counties in Florida is under the municipal control of Disney with far-reaching powers.

What is like living in the EPCOT?

Disney's utopian city that never was a prototype future community that was meticulously planned and designed to become an operational city, a kind of "proof of concept" that will encourage the world to design future cities like it. The living arrangement at the EPCOT would be like this: all 20,000 or so residents would become tenants and will be employed by Disney in various capacity. All residents will be paying their rent for the "privilege of living there" so that means retirees and old people would probably be kicked out from the community once their productivity is all but gone. All family homes would benefit from the latest technology, constantly being developed and "future-proofed" by in-house scientists, but of course, controlled and overseen by the 'Big Brother' himself - Walt Disney.

Since every aspect of life is planned and controlled, EPCOT will have efficient mass transportation system thereby removing the concept of car ownership. The city will have a radial urban plan so that everything will revolve around the central core where most of the important structures are located. The internal transportation system works round the clock by connecting all points of the Disney World via monorail. Passengers could disembark at any transportation lobby and transfer to the PeopleMover. Tracks with embedded motors will transport residents from the city center to the outer residential areas. Interestingly, the PeopleMover technology was later incorporated in the Magic Kingdom and later known as "PeopleMover Tomorrowland Transit Authority."

All the "unsightly" supply trucks, delivery cars and generally all utility vehicles would travel and operate underneath the city core, discretely delivering via underground tunnels, unseen by guests and residents.

City-State Despot

Who would have thought that the man who created some of the most recognizable and lovable cartoon characters in history would be like George Orwell's poster boy authoritarian leader? Although Disney wanted to change the world by exercising control in order bring future technology in every one's homes, we can't deny that the EPCOT is centered on the idea that residents won't be able to own their home and don't have a say on how they are governed.

Nevertheless, this planned community is expected to be a pedestrian, environmentally-friendly and future-proofed city.

"Separating the city core from the low-density residential area would be an expanse of grass areas, known to the planners as the “green belt”… Establishments such as parks with playgrounds, community centers, and churches would be located here. Beyond the Green Belt was the low-density, single-family house neighborhoods. These areas would have resembled the petals on a flower, with the houses located on the rim of each “petal”. Inside the “petal” was a vast green area. The area would have had paths for electric carts, light recreation areas for adults and play areas for children."

Why it failed?

Disney suddenly died in 1966 and for such an ambitious project, the board of directors decided pull out the plug as they don't want to continue running an entire city that will cost a lot of money.

Today a five-member Board of Supervisors governs the District; senior employees at Disney who each own lots of land within its borders. The only residents of the failed utopia today are some Disney employees and their family members, living in two small communities in the district.  What remains of the EPCOT dream is essentially a living world's fair called the Epcot Theme Park.

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