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Above:  Walt Disney in his final film appearance, speaking to the audience about his dream for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.


EDITORIAL - The Real EPCOT, Walt's Final Dream
by B.J. Major
11/20/11

Walt Disney died not having personally realized his greatest dream for "The Florida Project" - though fortunately, his brother Roy made sure that Phase One of that project was carried out and opened to the public.  EPCOT was well on its way to being built - or so we all thought. 

Maybe Walt Disney Productions had assumed that the public forgot all about what Walt originally wanted, which was not just "new urban planning" (as the city of Celebration, Florida illustrates) - but a brand new model city from the ground up with ALL of the innovations and plans that Walt and his staff actually had on the drawing boards and showed us in that December, 1966 tv show.  Maybe they thought that once we saw and visited EPCOT Center in 1982 that we would think this is what Walt's plans somehow naturally morphed into.  I frankly don't know what they were thinking, but they were certainly wrong on all counts.

Don't get me wrong.  I personally was in attendance at EPCOT Center on opening day - October 1, 1982.  It was exciting.  It was exhilarating.  There were really neat things to see and experience.  I liked it, very much, all of it.  I especially liked the Dreamfinder and Figment characters from "Journey Into Imagination".  And just when I thought that nothing could possibly top the Magic Kingdom's "Hall of Presidents" on the patriotic scale, here was the superb "American Adventure" attraction.  I went several times to EPCOT in the 1980s.  It was like a 2.0 version of another Disney themed park.  It was a truly great addition to Walt Disney World.  But there still was something missing.  Something really important.

What was missing?  Well, about 3/4 of what Walt wanted for this Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. 
Where was all the housing we saw in those animated films from that 1966 tv episode - the homes, the apartments, the condos?  I didn't see any churches or schools or recreation areas, either.  Where were these residents?  Where was the ringed hub that was supposed to contain all these things, with the hotel / convention center skyscraper in the center?  Where were the underground tunnels for the truck and auto traffic?  Where were the pedestrian-friendly streets?  Where were the PeopleMovers?  You know, like what is pictured in the scaled-down version of EPCOT still visible from the PeopleMover ride in Tomorrowland . . .

These items from the original plans were not there.  NONE of it was there.  I had a very bad feeling about this.  What we had in EPCOT Center was a combination permanent world's fair and technology / industry exhibit, but not a model city where people were actually "living a life they can't find anywhere else in the world".  Walt said that "it was an exciting challenge; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone who participates."

For quite a while after I had attended the grand opening of EPCOT, I wondered about these things.  I looked for answers and could not find any.  I found no literature from Walt Disney Productions saying why EPCOT wound up looking like it did and why these crucial parts of it were missing.  I searched the company annual reports and other literature and came up empty.

But then, little by little, it started coming out.  With the eventual passing of time and especially with the advent of the internet, I finally had some answers to my questions.

It turned out that Walt Disney Productions decided some time around 1975 - when they were trying to figure out how to go ahead with this part of Walt's dream - that they were not interested in the business of running a real city, no matter if it were a "model city" or not.  I had read that they did not want to "interfere with / manipulate people's lives".  This referred to the requirement that no voting rights would be possible because no EPCOT residents would own their housing or their land; they lived at EPCOT as working tenants.  No one could be retired, according to Walt's original concept.  WDP definitely didn't want to get involved in that, in telling folks how to live their lives.  Hmmm.  You would think that people who wanted to be part of a project of this scope would be doing so voluntarily and WANT to participate; in so doing, they'd have to follow the rules.  So where's the "manipulation"?  Not to mention that there are already two "cities" on the property that belong lock, stock and barrel to Disney - the city of Bay Lake and the city of Lake Buena Vista. 

In the final analysis, WDP took the name, the acronym Walt had coined for his project and applied that to another Disney theme park.  This place was EPCOT in name only; the only thing it shared with Walt's ideas was the monorail that connected it to the rest of the property, nothing else. 

This is not only a disgrace, but a total disservice to Walt's dream.  If you were going to build something like EPCOT Center, which bore no resemblance to the huge scope of idea that Walt already had laid out, then call it something else.  It's not Walt's EPCOT because the projected 20,000 residents don't live there.  All the new and up and coming technology was supposed to benefit actual residents, not just day guests.  In making these changes and deviating from Walt's dream, you have made Walt Disney World something totally different that what was intended.  As great as it is to be "The Vacation Kingdom of the World", that's not all it was supposed to be.  Walt Disney Productions had both a duty and a responsibility to carry out Walt's plans as HE envisioned EPCOT.  There is enough land on the property to still carry out this plan if the company so chooses - and I would applaud the person in the company who would be bold enough to do it.


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