Epcot Origins: Part I – The Garden City of To-Morrow

Written by Nathan Parrish. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Features, Walt Disney World, WEDway

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Published on October 29, 2012 at 5:01 am with 11 Comments

“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” – Walt Disney

On October 1, Epcot celebrated its 30th Anniversary and Epcot fans are lusting for more and more information about how it came to be. Let’s take a look at an early influence of Walt’s ideas for E.P.C.O.T.  Earlier this year on WEDWay Radio we did a five part series chronicling the history of Epcot since Walt Disney’s announcement during the waning weeks of his own life. In that exciting film, he unveiled the Florida Project and described the project’s purpose. We get a glimpse into what the Walt Disney Company was planning and likely would have implemented had Mr. Disney not suddenly passed away.

Photo Copyright The Walt Disney Co.










In the film, Walt discusses the need for solutions to the problems of postwar America.  One of the problems he saw plaguing society was the need for improvement and redesign of our cities

Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City

One of Walt’s influences regarding civic design was an Englishman named Ebenezer Howard.  Howard worked for the British government.  He had actually spent time in the United States during his youth and, in 1902, he would write one of the more important books for 19th century futurists, Garden Cities of To-Morrow.

Within the book, Howard described a new futuristic design for cities with a goal of combining the comforts of both rural and urban areas.  The entire town was to occupy a 6,000 acre ring with 1,000 acres devoted to the Garden City.

At the Center of Garden City was to be an actual garden and a public park surrounded by the buildings of the city, including: a theater; a library; a museum; city hall; and concert hall.  Radiating from the center were to be six boulevards that would divide the city into six wards.  Each of the boulevards would have inspiring names like Newton Boulevard and Columbus Boulevard.

Photo Cornell University

Over the Garden Center, a large glass structure called the Crystal Palace would protect citizens from the elements while they enjoyed the garden and public park.  This was not an original idea; glass covered structures would be seen throughout the 20th century.  Magazines like Popular Science published sketches of protective glass shelter.

Photo Copyright Popular Science


Low density housing, parks and schools made up the second ring.  Separating the six wards were the intersecting six boulevards, but running through the center of each ward (essentially making a separate ring) Howard suggested a wide street known as Grand Avenue.  It would be a whopping 420 feet wide, allowing for islands to be built within the street itself if necessary.

Photo Cornell University


Grand Avenue would be lined with prominent houses on the inner side, and the outer edge would mark the beginning of the Industrial area, essentially turning the street into a buffer between residential areas and industrial areas.  The outer edge of Garden City’s circular design would have factory’s, larger industrial buildings, timber yards and dairy farms.  All of the machinery was to be run by electricity.

Howard’s ideas were forward thinking.  In the coming decades, England would see population eradication in World War I and physical devastation in World War II. Innovative designs for rebuilding urban cores, incorporating population centers, as well as industrial complexes, would be key to the rebuilding efforts after both wars.

Walt Disney would introduce E.P.C.O.T. in the 1960’s with his own design based loosely on Howard’s idea of combining the populace with industry in a way that satisfied the needs of both.

Comparing the Garden City to E.P.C.O.T.

Like Howard’s design, Progress City would essentially be a ring radiating from a city center.  E.P.C.O.T.’s central city would be climate controlled with a glass roof much like the Crystal Palace of the Garden City.  In Howard’s design, boulevards would lead visitors from the central hub of Garden City. Automobiles were likely to be the big draw on the boulevards (exciting and new in 1902).  The Disney design was over sixty years after Howard’s and in Walt’s mind, automobiles were no longer the grand mode of transportation that they were in Howard’s day, instead they clogged traffic lanes and restrained society rather than liberating it.  So, to create a similar solution, E.P.C.O.T. was to be built with clean electric WEDWay Peoplemovers and monorails.

Both Mr. Howard’s and Walt Disney’s designs for the City of Tomorrow were attempts to solve problems related to the declining state of cities in England and the United States.

In a future post I’ll look at another origin to the concept related to Walt Disney’s original idea for E.P.C.O.T.

Do you think a community where the needs were matched for both industry and the citizens could exist today? Do you think Walt would have designed EPCOT to look like the Garden City?

The Garden City of To-Morrow was one of the subjects we discussed on episode 114 of WEDWay Radio. We invite you to listen along.

About Nathan Parrish

Nate Parrish researches Disney history for his podcasts: WEDWay Radio, a show about Disney history, experiencing the Disney Parks and the Walt Disney Company, and WEDWay NOW! the companion news show and window to the Disney community, both co-hosted by with his brother Matt. Nate helped create and produce Betamouse, the first Disney podcast about the convergence of Disney and technology. One of the areas that has made WEDWay Radio a success is that it not only explores the details of the Disney Parks, but also examines the cultural relevance. By day, Nate is a high school history teacher in suburban Kansas City MO.

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  • George Taylor

    This is a fascinating part of Epcot and Walt Disney World history.

    I would love to have seen what would have happened if Walt would have lived a few more years. Even setting a few more plans in motion could have created a much different WDW.


    • Me too. I would love to comb the archives for more unreleased information.

  • That 1902 Garden City design sure does look familiar.

    Very interesting stuff. Thank you Nathan. I’ve just added the podcast to my queue so I can listen on my long drive to work this morning.

  • Gullywhumper

    I”m not too fond of the Asylum for the Blind and Deaf, nor the Farm for Epileptics, both found in the lower right of the “Garden City”. Though this does represent early industrial city planning, interesting in the simularities to early EPCOT plans.

    • Thanks! Yes, I’m thinking that most of the treatment for those in need represented in Howards plan wouldn’t be acceptable today.

  • Pingback: Epcot Origins: Part I – The Garden City of To-Morrow - Roxy Articles()

  • Awe_inspired

    Awesome Nathan. Thank you.

  • QPerth

    This was terrific, and I can’t wait to read more!

    Check out the city of Canberra, the National Capital of Australia (no, it’s not Sydney LOL). You may see some familier design elements there!