Wednesday, November 28, 2012

EPCOT: From Experimental Prototype to Linking Nations and Ideas

Though the 30th Anniversary was October 1st, We thought it was time to take a long look back at the development and creation of Walt Disney's crowning achievement. 

    “Welcome to a little bit of Florida in California.” Walt Disney was about to reveal to guests the ideas that WED Enterprises would be implementing into the recently purchased Florida land cod named, “Project X”. The now famous EPCOT film thought of as the lasting image of Walter Elias Disney became a rallying point for Disney fans around the world. The culmination of the Florida Project would be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
            EPCOT, as it would come to be known would become a working, living and breathing city. This utopian community would become a beacon of the future for all as a technological marvel that presented reliable public transportation and the ability to become completely self-sustaining. This was Walt Disney’s ultimate goal and his crowning achievement in a career full of accolades and praise. Walt decreed that, “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."

            The plan included industrial, commercial, and residential zones, with a monorail transportation service moving residents from the outside in. At the center of the city would be the commercial and downtown district, completely enclosed by a dome, protecting residents and guests from the elements. Walt had hoped that by instituting tours of the EPCOT city, visitors would take ideas and thoughts back to their own communities and stimulate progress. The concept is still recognizable in some form aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, as the Progress City model resides within the show building of Stitch’s Great Escape.
Sadly, the unfortunate passing of Walt Disney in December of 1966 led many to wonder the logistics of such an undertaking, and whether the costs of construction would make the project feasible. With men like Martin Sklar and John Hench leading the production, there was a sense of calmness within the company considering Hench’s storied career with Disney and Walt specifically, and Sklar’s connection writing Disney’s personal material.
This led to two distinct ideas worthy of the EPCOT moniker. There was the designed Future World, which included new ideas and technology being presented to visitors. This concept was considered the closest link to the original concept, as it stuck to the theme of advancing technology and the look to the future. The other design was an expanded World Showcase, showing the link between all nations and their ability to work together and coexist. These two models continued to expand, until a meeting with the then head of the company Card Walker and Donn Tatum. This meeting led to Sklar and Hench taking the two models and pushing them together. In one instant, EPCOT was born.

The EPCOT Center theme park would become a permanent World’s Fair, which was ironic considering the 1964 World’s Fair brought about much of the ideas and concepts that Walt Disney ultimately planned for Florida. The theme park contacted people like science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury to create attractions and shows that informed guests of a vision of the future. With attractions like Spaceship Earth, The Universe of Energy and World of Motion, EPCOT would inform guests of our roots, and our plans ahead. Conversely, World Showcase would present guests the ability to see countries, what they are known for, and how they coexist in the world. Upon the opening of the park the Fountain of Nations proved unity between the countries within the World Showcase, as each country (plus representatives from other nations) poured a gallon of water from their homeland into the fountain.  

Though the EPCOT concept did not materialize as Walt Disney had initially intended, its legacy cannot be measured. As it nears its 30th anniversary it is important to note that though the park is not exactly what was planned, the entire Walt Disney World Resort has been positively affected by its creation, and its original concept. Without the vision of Walt Disney, guests would not be riding Monorails from EPCOT to Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the WEDway PeopleMover (or TTA) would not exist. The city of Celebration is especially grateful, as the Disney Company used some of the concepts of their innovated visionary to create the living city. EPCOT is not only a theme park, but should be looked at as a place that links ideas and beliefs as well as the world.

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