“Where is EPCOT Center?,” was the oft-heard cry in the early 1970s around Walt Disney World. Guests, media, government officials and cast members constantly asked about the city of tomorrow. Walt’s pervasive dream of a futuristic city was more than enough to sell the Florida governments (state and local municipalities) on giving the Walt Disney Productions an almost unheard of freedom for development. So, expectations were extremely high for what was going to be built in Florida. Even though there was constant innovation through new technologies, they were often behind-the-scenes and not as glamorous as a futuristic city.
“Where is EPCOT Center?”
In the January 26, 1974 Eyes & Ears, Card Walker was asked the following question: The long-term question most often asked is about EPCOT. Is any work being done yet on design?
Card: Let’s put it this way .. . we’ve never really stopped working on EPCOT. Many of the things we’ve done already are part of the EPCOT plan … our sewer, power, AVAC, underground utilities, and transportation, our tree farm experiments and many other things … they’re all part of the ideas behind EPCOT. Also … for the last three months, our creative team at WED has been working on designs . .’.and we’re now planning on combining key people from each of the companies we’re now involved with, the participants we’re meeting with this week, and the best minds of the academic world. We’re going to aggressively pursue this project.
Once you begin to delve into the history of Walt Disney World, you’ll often find the beginnings of EPCOT Center. We’re not talking about Walt’s city, but the cutting-edge technology that would be the basis for EPCOT Center. In the first few years of the Magic Kingdom and the resort itself, you’d be hard-pressed not to find technological advancements everywhere.
Early books, magazines and internal publications focused on the technological changes that Disney was ushering in to create, maintain and expand the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Solar power, fiber-optic communications (including the first 911 system in Florida), water-reclamation and more. Card Walker and Donn Tatum spent a lot of 1975 and 1976 trying to get people to see that EPCOT Center was already being implemented at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
But before we go any further, let’s explain very basically and briefly the current plan for EPCOT. All 43 square miles of our property is in many ways actually becoming part of EPCOT already. Card Walker, 1975.
Walt Disney World and, in particular, Epcot Center used to be known for taking advantage of and implementing forward thinking technology. And not just the additions of Magic Bands or Frozen-themed merchandise.Basically, it seems like any technological breakthroughs now are being directed by the company’s desire to extend vacations and get more money from the guests. I get that.
I just want Future World to become a showcase for technology.
Case in point: I was listening to a podcast called TechStuff and they often refer to Epcot Center in regards to the latest and greatest technologies of the early 1980s. Jonathan and Lauren, the hosts, have mentioned the WorldKey Kiosks and even touring on Segways when they refer to cutting edge tech. One of their shows was called Solar Freaking Roadways and discussed using solar panels as our actual highways. It’s a weird concept to think about driving on solar panels, but the hosts discuss a lot of the pros and cons. Listening to the show made me realize that this is exactly the type of forward-thinking technology that we need to see at Epcot and throughout the Walt Disney World property today.
Besides being able to power a lot of the resort, the solar road panels would also have a LED technology to change the direction of roads and direct people. Obviously, it would help with parking and directing people to the appropriate place based on their MagicBand. (Is this thing on?) Seriously, the roadway could be changed to re-direct traffic flow, assist guests with exiting parking lots and delineate areas for parking. Imagine being able to follow a brightly colored line or arrow to get to your parking space.
Time and again, these important and distinguished people said that only Disney seems to have the two vital prerequisites…the credibility with the public and an ability to communicate issues such as the energy crisis. In fact, these people told us that the energy story cannot wait…that it is absolutely vital to the general public understand the complete energy story, as soon as possible. Card Walker, 1975.
It’s been argued that the solar panel roadway is just too expensive, but what about using the panels throughout the resort? Walkways at Downtown Disney or in Future World? Talk about a great way to refresh Tomorrowland. You could also run the solar panels alongside or off of the monorail beamway. To appease the bean counters, you could always use the embedded LEDs to help market and promote the latest film!
It comes down to the fact that Epcot (and Walt Disney World Resort) are no longer investigating and implementing technologies in order to create a better world. We did face severe resource crises during the 1970s and that influenced how Disney was able to get EPCOT Center built. Major companies were willing to help support Walt’s dream that was supposed to end the problems of our cities. Granted, I understand that the world has changed and that people want more entertainment than education. Also, we face a fiscal crisis instead of an energy crises. People change and Disney has to keep up to continue to get people to continue to spend money. Hence, you can trace the evolution of Advance Dining Reservations, FastPass, MagicBands and My Magic Plus.
Personally, I’d like to see Disney get back to adding more cutting-edge technology to their parks and partnering with initiatives like the Solar Roadways.
Visit http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml to learn more about the Solar Roadways Project.
What new technologies would you like to see Disney look into for the Florida property?
Check out this great book about the first decade at Walt Disney World.
ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor
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