- “EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.”
- ―Walt Disney
The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (more commonly abbreviated to EPCOT or just EPCT) was a concept developed by Walt Disney near the end of his lifetime. With Walt thinking way ahead of his time, this planned city was his intended purpose for the property purchased near Orlando, Florida, that eventually became the Walt Disney World. Its purpose was to be a "community of the future" designed to stimulate American corporations to come up with new ideas for urban living.
In describing his city, Walt Disney is quoted as saying: "EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems."
After Walt Disney passed away in 1966, most of his ideas for this planned city were largely abandoned, and the Walt Disney World Resort opened in 1971 with only the Magic Kingdom and a few hotels. The concept eventually evolved into the Epcot theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, which opened in 1982. (However, the cities of Dubai and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates along with the upcoming Cedar Island project in Lebanon use similar, if not the same, concepts that Walt created, along with the Venus Project.)
The original architectural model of the concept can be viewed on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover in the Magic Kingdom.
In the early 1960s, Walt Disney was a huge success in the entertainment industry, as well as having a family with many grandchildren. In watching his grandchildren grow up, Walt began to worry about the world of the future they would inhabit. He began to notice that the modern cities were hectic, disorganized, dirty, and riddled with crime. This was a far cry from Disney's then-clean and controlled Disneyland Park in California.
Walt began to realize that all that he and his Imagineers had learned about buildings and space in relation to people in the development of Disneyland could be put to use in planning communities, even whole cities. Disney began to engross himself in books about city planning, such as Ebenezer Howard's "Garden Cities of To-morrow", and all that was needed to pull off something of that magnitude.
At the same time, Walt Disney had given the East Coast a glimpse of his style of entertainment with the four pavilions Disney developed for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Walt determined, based on how well-received the fair exhibitions were, that the public was ready for an "East-Coast Disneyland". (See Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, It's A Small World)
Walt Disney determined that Florida provided the ideal place to set up his new East Coast venue. However, Walt did not want to repeat himself by building another Disneyland. He wanted to create something entirely different: a community for people not just to play in, but to live in as well. This was the beginning of EPCOT.
Through various dummy corporations, Walt Disney purchased some Florida swampland (twice the size of Manhattan Island) located between the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee (see Reedy Creek Improvement District). This land would eventually become the Walt Disney World Resort. "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", Walt Disney said, referring to the fact that he had little control over the surrounding area of Disneyland.
Disney also petitioned with the State of Florida Legislature to give Walt Disney Productions municipal jurisdiction over the land they had acquired. This was to make sure that Walt Disney could have full control over every part of the property, even how the buildings were constructed. Walt was planning new ideas in urban living and did not want the government to interfere. This was the beginning of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
The EPCOT film
Recorded on October 27, 1966, less than two months before his death, Walt Disney made 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 limited 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.
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. This is where Disney World's core concept would come to fruition. 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.
The Magic Kingdom
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.
The EPCOT city itself, according to the concepts presented in the EPCOT film, was based on a very innovative but simple design: the radial concept. 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 they did, 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.
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" 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.
High-density residential area
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.
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, and churches would be located here.
Low-density residential areas
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 either 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. Even when he was dying from lung cancer, his brother, Roy O. Disney, stated that Walt was still planning his city in the hospital. Walt was using the ceiling to imagine his city, planning excitedly.
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 pull 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, his brother.
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.
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.
- 'EPCOT - 1966. Film. Copy 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: Book written by Jeff Kurtti
- RealityLand - 2008
- Walt and the Promise of Progress City - 2011. Written by Sam Gennawey
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