Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of EPCOT Center on October 1, 1983. EPCOT was called Walt Disney’s greatest dream. But it is important to remember that Epcot isn’t exactly EPCOT.
Late in Walt Disney’s life, he had the desire to build a new city, but not just any city. Walt wanted to build an Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, and that is where he got the EPCOT name from. “City” was at some point changed to “Community,” which is the official acronym expansion these days. Walt wanted EPCOT to be a place full of new technologies. Companies would come and try out their new products, materials, and ideas. And because the city would be all new, it would be easy to start from scratch instead of having to redo existing installations of outdated technology.
EPCOT would also be a place to test and develop new city planning ideas. Pedestrian traffic would be on the main level, while automobile traffic would be on a level below that, creating a safe environment for people to walk where they were going. Other transportation would be provided by Monorails and PeopleMovers - automated, energy efficient transportation to help protect the environment.
EPCOT would have a business district surrounded by residential areas. And the whole area would be kept neat and clean. Urban decay would be kept out of EPCOT. And Disney would be in control of it all, just to make sure that everything remained top-notch and cutting-edge.
It was a grand dream, but EPCOT eventually died. Some would say that EPCOT died when Walt Disney died. But actually, after Walt’s death, his brother Roy was still committed to seeing Walt’s dream completed. I think it is probably more accurate to say that EPCOT started to die once Roy O. Disney passed away.
Roy O. Disney died just two months after the opening of the first phase of Walt Disney World in Florida. Walt had the idea to build a theme park similar to Disneyland first, and then to build his futuristic city after that. Once Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was going strong, those in charge at Disney started looking at what to do with EPCOT. Card Walker, Marty Sklar, and the rest eventually decided that creating a working city would just be too much to do. Too many challenges. Too many potential problems. And, probably more importantly, too little revenue.
Could a city such as EPCOT have been built? I think so. Could Disney have done it? Most likely, yes. Could it have made money for Disney? That is difficult to answer. But then, Walt Disney himself often did not have making money as his most important goal.
But for whatever reason, Disney decided to scrap the idea of EPCOT the city. Instead, they developed EPCOT Center. Their idea was that EPCOT Center would be a showcase of the ideas behind EPCOT. People would come to EPCOT Center to see new technologies and new futuristic concepts. Future World would house pavilions dealing with such topics as communication, energy, transportation, and agriculture. World Showcase would feature pavilions of different nations, showing the hope for the future of one world coexisting peacefully.
For all its well-meaning technology and hopefulness, EPCOT Center still was not EPCOT. Nor was it actually intended to be. Still, perhaps some credit should be given to Disney for at least doing something with the whole EPCOT idea. One wonders if the same thing were to happen today, if they would just ignore it and let the idea quietly die. Disney’s America, for example?
Some say that the whole Walt Disney World property now is what Walt Disney wanted EPCOT to be. After all, Monorails take people from place to place. There is an automated trash collection system at the Magic Kingdom. New technologies such as fiber-optic phone systems have been installed early in their development. But that still isn’t EPCOT. It still isn’t an actual city with a business district and a residential district. It isn’t what Walt had in mind.
Many years later, Disney did build a new city, which they called Celebration. But even Celebration isn’t EPCOT, either. Celebration has no Monorail or PeopleMover. It has some new technologies, but nothing along the lines of what Walt had in mind for EPCOT. Instead of being an experimental city of tomorrow, Celebration is just a master planned community, and a well planned one at that. But no EPCOT.
Will we ever see something like what Walt Disney wanted EPCOT to be? Who knows? I think it is likely that there will be some sort of futuristic city sometime in the future. But I don’t think it will be at Walt Disney World. Or that Disney will even be involved in it, at least not in a major way.
Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed EPCOT Center from the time of my very first visit in 1983. Especially in those early days, it mixed in a healthy dose of education along with the fun, and I soaked up every bit of it that I could. And I still enjoy Epcot today. It is still a fun place, and I always look forward to the chance to go there.
But still, sometimes I wonder just how cool the real EPCOT would have been.