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The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was an unfinished concept being developed by Walt Disney. Its purpose was to be a "real city that would 'never cease to be a blueprint of the future,'" designed to stimulate American corporations to come up with new ideas for urban living. This was part of Walt Disney's original plan for the property purchased near Orlando, Florida, but after his death in 1966, the property became the Walt Disney World Resort in 1971 and a theme park based on the idea opened in 1982. A portion of the original architectural model of the concept can be viewed on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover in the Magic Kingdom.
In the early 1960s, entertainment industry magnate Walt Disney, who by this time had many grandchildren, began to worry about the future of the world they would inhabit. He worried especially about modern cities, which were hectic, disorganized, dirty, and crime-ridden, a far cry from his clean and controlled Disneyland Park in California. Realizing that what he and his Imagineers had learned in the development of Disneyland could be put to use in planning communities, and perhaps even cities, Disney began to immerse himself in books about city planning, such as Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of To-morrow. Around the same time, Disney had given the East Coast a glimpse of his style of entertainment, with the four pavilions he developed for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. The success of these exhibitions convinced him that the time was right for an "East Coast Disneyland". (See Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, It's A Small World) However, Disney did not want simply to build a second Disneyland. He wanted to create something entirely different: a community for people to live in.
Walt Disney determined that Florida was the best location for his new project. Through various dummy corporations, he purchased 27,800 acres (113 km2) of Florida swampland located between Orlando and Kissimmee. Commenting on this choice, he said, "Here in Florida we've enjoyed something we've never enjoyed at Disneyland: the blessing of size. There's enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we could possibly imagine". Disney also petitioned the Florida State Legislature to give Walt Disney Productions municipal jurisdiction over the land they had acquired. This ensured that Walt Disney would have full control over every aspect of the development of the property, including building construction. The jurisdiction thus created eventually became known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
A recording on October 27, 1966, less than two months before Disney's death, was a 25-minute film about his plans for the Florida Project, then dubbed "Disney World". In the film, Walt himself explains briefly how the Florida property will be utilized and how his EPCOT concept will work with the other aspects of Disney World. Disney made this film primarily to persuade and encourage American industry and various corporations to opt in and help Walt Disney Productions in the creation and running of EPCOT. Disney also encouraged the industrial companies to come up with their best ideas in technology, so that those ideas could be continuously demonstrated in the city. With the help of concept art and animation, Disney showed what the city would look like and how it would work. However, he reminded the viewing audience that the sketches and paintings are only a starting point in the conceptualization of EPCOT, stating: "Everything in this room will change time and time again as we move ahead. But the basic philosophy of what we're planning for Disney World is going to remain very much as it is right now". The film itself can be found on Walt Disney Treasures - Tomorrow Land in its entirety.
The Carousel of Progress was one of Walt Disney's attractions developed for the New York's World Fair in 1963-64. Guests stayed in their seats as an outer ring of six theaters moved around a fixed, circular section. While guests were entering into one theater and exiting from another, guests in the other four theaters were watching the tireless Audio-Animatronic actors in the four acts of the show depicting the evolution of the science and technology in our life through the eyes of the same family. When the Fair ended, Walt Disney had a perfect attraction to export to Disneyland. Walt Disney died in December 1966. He never saw the July 1967 re-opening of the attraction this time at Disneyland. In Disneyland, the show concluded with a fifth act, featuring the detailed model of what was known as Progress City. This city was the preview of Walt's vision for Epcot. Extremely detailed, the model features all of the major key elements of his project:
- the radial design
- the urban center and its towering hotel
- the green belt
- the industrial park
- the Monorails and PeopleMovers
The Carousel of Progress closed its doors in 1973 and was moved to Walt Disney World at the Magic Kingdom in 1975. The model of Progress City (Epcot) was not included in the Floridian version and a very reduced and less animated version of the model was put on display along the tracks of the PeopleMover where it remains to this day. The model on display is in fact only a small section of the original model (mostly the urban center and the greenbelt) and most of the detailed animations are now turned off, only the internal lighting is being maintained.
Walt devised a way to make full use out of the Florida property, with EPCOT as its central attraction. All guests would enter and leave Disney World in the same general area. Arriving by car, or at the Disney World Airport, in the southern part of the property, guests would be shuttled by monorail to the Disney World Welcome Center. There, guests would be welcomed by Disney hosts and hostesses able to speak in the guests' own languages. After every aspect of their stay had been planned, guests would then reboard the monorail to EPCOT. Before arriving at EPCOT guests would have the opportunity to visit EPCOT's Industrial Park; the Park's offices and laboratories would be occupied by major American corporations who would use the facilities to develop new technology for use in the EPCOT city. Guests of Disney World would be allowed to go on tours of the facility to see how it all worked. Walt Disney hoped that this would stimulate people to return to their own communities and encourage technological growth where they live.
When Walt presented his ideas to the Board of Directors, they were skeptical. They wanted assurance that people would come to visit this "Disney World". What they wanted was a surefire hit: a Disneyland-style park. Walt initially objected, but eventually relented, and he used the park to his advantage. He put the theme park in the northmost corner of the Florida property. Disney wanted everyone to experience the rest of Disney World before getting to the theme park area as you can see in the very first master plan drawn by Walt Disney himself.
The EPCOT city, according to the concepts presented in the EPCOT film, was based on a radial plan, a design inspired by the Garden City Movement of urban planning. Based on a concept similar to the layout of Disneyland Park, the city radiates out like a wheel from a central core. The urban density of the area would dwindle as the city fanned out.
The city would be connected to the other points in Disney World with a main line of transportation—the monorail. Walt Disney introduced the monorail at Disneyland in 1959. The monorail would cut through the center of the city, connecting EPCOT with the northern and southern points on the Disney World property.
Internal transportation would be provided by a whole new Disney transportation concept: the WEDway PeopleMover. (W.E.D. were Walt Disney's initials.) The PeopleMover is a transportation system that never stops, relying on motors embedded in the track rather than in the vehicles. PeopleMover cars would transport residents from the metropolitan center to the outer residential areas. The PeopleMover concept was first demonstrated at Disneyland's Tomorrowland in 1967. The PeopleMover was also installed at the Magic Kingdom as the WEDWay PeopleMover in 1975; since 2010, it has been known as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is also the only way to view the Progress City diorama, which is located inside the north show building in Tomorrowland (the show building housing Stitch's Great Escape!).
Because of these two modes of transportation, residents of EPCOT would not need cars. If a resident owned a car, it would be used "only for weekend pleasure trips." The streets for cars would be kept separate from the main pedestrian areas. The main roads for both cars and supply trucks would travel underneath the city core, eliminating the risk of pedestrian accidents. This was also based on the concept that Walt Disney devised for Disneyland. He did not want his guests to see behind-the-scenes activity, such as supply trucks delivering goods to the city. Like the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, all supplies are discreetly delivered via underground tunnels.
The two systems, monorail and PeopleMover, would come together at the EPCOT Transportation Lobby. The Transportation Lobby would be located at ground level, above the busy automobile/truck roads. From the Lobby, a passenger riding the monorail from the Magic Kingdom Park to their home would disembark the monorail and transfer to the appropriate PeopleMover station.
Beyond EPCOT, visitors would arrive at the Airport of Tommorrow, located across from the Main Entrance to EPCOT. The airport would have been connected to the park by a monorail station.
The planned airport would have had a general aviation area with an executive terminal, and another for regional passenger travel with a large terminal building. Plans identified the airport in 1966 but was not present in the revised plans in the later 1970s.
EPCOT's downtown and commercial areas would have been located in the central core of the city, away from the residential areas. The entire downtown would have been completely enclosed, unaffected by the outside elements. "The pedestrian will be king"[this quote needs a citation] in this area, free from the danger of cars and other vehicles.
At the center of the area would be a 30-story Cosmopolitan Hotel and Convention Center. This building was to have been the tallest building in EPCOT and could have been seen for miles, like the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. The parking lot for hotel guests would have been located underneath the city core, right off of the vehicle throughway.
On the "roof" of the enclosed area would be the recreational area for hotel guests. The pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, shuffleboard, and other activities would have been located here. According to Imagineer Bob Gurr, Walt Disney pointed to one of the benches on the scale model of the area and declared, "This is where Lilly [his wife] and I will sit when this thing is finished, taking everything in".
Surrounding the hotel, inside the enclosure, would have been "shops and restaurants that reflect the culture and flavor of locations 'round the world". According to the concept art, these areas would be themed to each country, having the look and feel of each of the exotic locales. This concept eventually evolved into the World Showcase area of the Epcot theme park. The PeopleMover track would travel above these downtown shops and streets in a similar fashion as the system did in Disneyland. Preliminary plan indicated that the people who would have worked in these shops would have also lived in the 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". This is where the city services would be located. Establishments such as parks with playgrounds, community centers, schools, stadiums, and churches would be located here.
On the rim of the city core would have been high-density apartment housing. This is where most of EPCOT's 20,000 citizens would have lived. Not much is discussed about the apartments themselves, although Walt Disney stated that no one in EPCOT would own their land. There would be no difference between an apartment and a home. All renting rates would be modest and competitive with the surrounding market. Also, the housing would be constructed in such a way to ensure ease of change, so that new ideas/products can be used. A person returning from a hard day's work could very well come home to a kitchen with brand-new appliances in it.
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. The PeopleMover station for each area would have also been located in the green area. The resident could simply walk to the station from their home and on to work. As stated before, residents would not really need a car to get around. Like the apartments, the houses would be built to be easily changed.
Living and employment
As stated above, no one living in EPCOT would own their own land or home, thereby having no municipal voting rights (bond issues, etc.). Walt Disney wanted to exercise this control only to be able to change technology in the homes easily.
According to the film, all adults living in EPCOT would be employed, thereby preventing the formation of slums and ghettos. There would be no retirees—everyone would have been required to have a job. Residents would have been employed at the Magic Kingdom theme park, the city central core shopping areas, the hotel/convention center, the airport, the Welcome Center, or the industrial park. As the film states, "everyone living in EPCOT will have the responsibility to maintain this living blueprint of the future".
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. His brother Roy stated that, even while he was dying from lung cancer, Walt was still planning his city in the hospital. Walt used the ceiling grid to lay out a scale plot plan in his imagination, each 24" x 24" tile representing one square mile. Florida Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. signed Chapter 67-764 into law on May 12, 1967, establishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District. However, Disney directors eventually decided that it was too risky to venture into city planning now that its biggest advocate was gone. But Roy persisted and took the reins on the project, stepping out of retirement to do it. However, Roy could not convince the board to build EPCOT. But, he did forge ahead with the Magic Kingdom project. The Walt Disney World Resort opened in October 1971 with only the Magic Kingdom and two hotels. Roy insisted it be called Walt Disney World as a tribute to the man who had dreamed it up.
Even though the city was never built, the Resort represents some of the forward-thinking planning that embodied Walt's idea of EPCOT. Because of the formation of the RCID, Disney could find innovative solutions to the problems of transportation, building construction, supplying electrical power, and waste disposal. Imagineers, including Disney Legends John Hench and Richard Irvine, devised ingenious means of waste disposal and sewer transport. The monorail, while mainly an attraction at Disneyland, was utilized as an actual transportation system, taking guests some thirteen miles around the Resort area. The Contemporary Resort opened with the Magic Kingdom as a architectural remnant of EPCOT's modernist aesthetic.
In the late 1970s, Disney CEO Card Walker wanted to revisit the EPCOT idea. But the board was still wary and all agreed that Walt's EPCOT would not work in its initial incarnation; they thought that no one would want to live under a microscope and be watched constantly. The result of the compromise was the EPCOT Center theme park (now Epcot), which opened in 1982. While still emulating Walt Disney's ideas, it was not a city, but rather closer to that of a World's Fair. Epcot, somewhat true to Walt Disney's vision, revolves around technology and the future in the Future World area. The World Showcase is an embellished version of the downtown shopping area, albeit without the enclosure.
In the early 1990s, the Walt Disney Company built an actual community on the Florida property called Celebration. It is a planned community that employs some of the ideas that Walt Disney envisioned, but on a significantly smaller scale. Unlike EPCOT, which was based on modernism and futurism, there is no radial design for Celebration. Celebration is designed based on new urbanism, and resembles a small American town, but has all the modern conveniences, without the revolutionary transportation ideas contained in the plans for EPCOT.
Singapore is often cited as a real-life EPCOT country. William Gibson described Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty" in an article for Wired in 1993, due to its high degree of city planning and clean and orderly lifestyle, just as Walt Disney would have wanted his community to be.
- Gennawey, Sam (2011). Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City. Theme Park Press. pp. xiii. ISBN 1941500269.
- "Epcot - Disney - Orlando". www.orlandoviagem.com.br. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- "E.P.C.O.T Film - The Original E.P.C.O.T Project". google.com. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- "Should the city of Epcot have been built ?". the-original-epcot.com.
- EPCOT - 1966. Film. Script written by Martin A. Sklar. Available on the "Tomorrowland" volume of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series.
- Walt Disney's EPCOT Center - 1982. Text written by Richard R. Beard. Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-0819-0
- Walt: The Man Behind the Myth - 2001. Film. Written by Katherine and Richard Greene.
- Since the World Began - 1996. Book written by Jeff Kurtti. Published by Hyperion Editions.
- Walt and the Promise of Progress City - 2011. Written by Sam Gennawey.
- "Walt Disney and the Quest for Community" - 2002. Written by Steve Mannheim. Published by Ashgate.