Today Walt Disney World in Florida is the most popular vacation destination in the world. Walt Disney World includes more than 20 resort hotels, 2 water parks, 1 night-time entertainment district and of course 4 theme parks: Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971, Epcot, opened in 1982, Hollywood Studios, opened in 1989 and Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998.
Even if the original project of Walt Disney did include a Disneyland-like theme park (the Magic Kingdom as it was eventually called), the reason to build Walt Disney World was E.P.C.O.T. But not Epcot as we know it today (a theme park), but Walt's E.P.C.O.T, a one of kind project composed of several elements: a prototype community, an industrial park, an airport of the future and much much more...
All these elements were imagined by Walt Disney and his staff with new and advanced designs and technologies. This project was conceived between 1962 and 1966 (Walt Disney's death) and even if it did survived a couple of years it was stopped in the mid 70's and never developped. Some elements did survive in the Walt Disney World resort as we know it today, like the World Showcase concept, but so much more was planned. Unfortunately, the project has lost its main energy: Walt.
The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (E.P.C.O.T) was a concept developed by Walt Disney near the end of his lifetime that went as far as elaborate visions and plans and the purchase of property near Orlando, Florida that eventually became the Walt Disney World resort, including Epcot (formerly known as EPCOT Center), a related concept transformed into a themepark. It was a "community of the future" that was designed to stimulate American corporations to come up with new ideas for urban living. Of E.P.C.O.T, Walt Disney is quoted as saying, "E.P.C.O.T 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."
Walt's original vision of E.P.C.O.T was for a model community, home to twenty thousand residents, which would be a test bed for city planning and organization. The community was to have been built in the shape of a circle, with businesses and commercial areas at its center, community buildings and schools and recreational complexes around it, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter. Transportation would have been provided by monorails and PeopleMovers (like the one in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland). Automobile traffic would be kept underground, leaving pedestrians safe above-ground. Walt Disney said, "It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In E.P.C.O.T, there will be no slum areas because we won't let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed."
During its design until 1967 where it became "Walt Disney World", the project was known inside Walt Disney Productions as various names:
"Project X", "The Florida Project", "The Disney Florida Project", "Disney World"
The concept eventually evolved into the Epcot theme park, which opened in 1982 at the Walt Disney World Resort.
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. This got Walt thinking, and he began to engross himself in books about city planning and all that was needed to pull something of that magnitude off.
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, 1966
(c) Photo by The Walt Disney Company
Walt Disney determined that Florida provided the ideal place to set up his new East Coast venue. But, Walt did not want to repeat himself by building another Disneyland. He wanted to create something entirely different: a community where people not just played in, but lived in as well. This was the beginning of E.P.C.O.T.
Through various dummy corporations, Walt Disney purchased 27,800 acres of Florida swampland (twice the size of Manhattan Island) located between the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee. 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 E.P.C.O.T FILM
Walt Disney during the shooting of the film - thursday, october 28, 1966
(c) The Walt Disney Company
In October of 1966, two months before his death, Walt Disney made a 30-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 E.P.C.O.T 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 E.P.C.O.T. 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 original model of this original vision of E.P.C.O.T can still be seen by passengers riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority attraction in the Magic Kingdom park; when the PeopleMover enters the showhouse for Stitch's Great Escape, the model of what was called "Progress City" is visible on the left (when facing forward) behind glass. Disney passed away before the Magic Kingdom opened and his vision of E.P.C.O.T (the original project) was not realized.
// MASTER PLAN
Master Plan drawn by Walt Disney, 1965-66
(c) The Walt Disney Company / The Walt Disney Family Foundation
Arriving 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 E.P.C.O.T.
Before arriving at E.P.C.O.T guests would have the opportunity to visit E.P.C.O.T'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 E.P.C.O.T 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
Walt never wanted to make a "sequel" to Disneyland, always stating that there will always be one Disneyland. 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.
Updated Master Plan for Walt Disney World, 1969
(c) The Walt Disney Company
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.
// THE CITY
The E.P.C.O.T city itself, according to the concepts presented in the E.P.C.O.T 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. of Disney World before getting to the theme park area.
City Radial Design 1966
(c) The Walt Disney Company
// TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS
Transportation Lobby with PeopleMovers and Monorails, 1966(c) The Walt Disney Company
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 E.P.C.O.T 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. 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 where it's now called PeopleMover Tomorrowland Transit Authority.
Because of these two modes of transportation, residents of E.P.C.O.T would not need a car. 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 E.P.C.O.T 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.
// CITY CENTER
E.P.C.O.T's downtown and commercial areas would have been located in the central core of the city, away from the residential areas. The entire area 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.
Cosmopolitan Hotel, 1966
(c) The Walt Disney Company
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 E.P.C.O.T 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".
// INTERNATIONAL SHOPPING CENTER
International Shopping Center, 1966
(c) The Walt Disney Company
Surrounding and below 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 HOUSING
On the rim of the city core would have been high-density apartment housing. This is where most of E.P.C.O.T's 20,000 citizens would have lived. Not much is discussed about the apartments themselves, although Walt Disney stated that no one in E.P.C.O.T 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.
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 & EMPLOYEMENT
Typical Industrial Complex, 1966
(c) The Walt Disney Company
As stated above, no one living in E.P.C.O.T 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, everyone living in E.P.C.O.T would be employed, thereby preventing the formation of slums and ghettos. There would be no retirees, everyone would have had 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. And, as the film states, "everyone living in E.P.C.O.T will have the responsibility to maintain this living blueprint of the future".