With the Central Plaza looking more denuded than ever (especially the center hub), I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this topic
Some updated pics... the hub appears to have become even more bald recently:
Tomorrowland & Contemporary clearly visible from within Liberty Square (formerly blocked by Hub trees):
Going back in time.
As recently as 2002, with shade trees showing 30 years of growth:
"“The Place Will Get More Beautiful Each Year”
Preserving and Restoring the Sublime Beauty of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks
Walt Disney World is a place that inspires and enlightens, so much so that visits to Walt Disney World typically refresh and invigorate guests. This is the result of the expertise and efforts of thousands of Disney cast members, be they Imagineers who dream and design, helpful front desk clerks who greet guests at the resorts, or skilled landscapers who trim and manicure the acres of land that Walt and his brother Roy worked so hard to acquire.
It is easy, then, to understand why many guests become sentimentally attached to attractions, shops, and resorts. But Disney parks are not museums; they are living, breathing entities that, in Walt’s own words, will never be complete “as long as there is imagination left in the world.” But Walt is also quoted as saying, “even the trees will grow; the place will get more beautiful each year.” Quiet areas of understated beauty make Disney parks unique; these fantastic vistas live on in the imaginations of guests long after they return home.
Every structure, every planting, every color at Disney theme parks is chosen with careful deliberation by the talented artists at Imagineering. In his book Designing Disney, John Hench writes that “Imagineers carefully select images essential to each story [they] want to tell in a Disney park.” Disney guests “engage in a special world of story” when they enter the parks; they feel immersed “within the special world that [Imagineering] created” (Hench 30). No place is that more evident than in the Magic Kingdom where subtle visual clues lead to smooth transitions from one fantatic land to another.
Imagine, then, the shock of a "hubless" Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney felt that Disneyland’s Hub gave “people a lot of space” and “a sense of orientation.” Imagineers conceived the Hub as a “design solution to accommodate guests’ decision making” (Hench 37). That leafy oasis of shade surrounded by inviting park benches offered tantalizing views into the other lands of the Magic Kingdom. It also provided a gathering place complete with ample seating and much needed shade. “Just like Walt did,” the Imagineer “assumes the guests’ point of view . . . tak[ing] the guests’ interests to heart and defend[ing] them when others didn’t think that it mattered” (Hench 20). The Hub in its original form fulfilled this promise.
A 1982 souvenir book entitled Walt Disney World: The First Decade devotes three pages to what it calls “the miracle of the Hub.” What is so special about this area of the Park? In addition to the practicality of providing “easy access to all areas of the Magic Kingdom,” the Hub provides a “sense of continuity” (27). The goal of the Imagineers was to ensure that “all the elements within a land work together to create a smooth and constant chain of events” (27); this was provided by the greenery of the Hub, a visual break making transitions into each land smooth and seamless.
It's one thing to change and update attractions; it's quite another to physically alter the original design and integrity of the park itself. Now, in the Magic Kingdom of all places, the “visual details disagree” so “guests experience active clutter” (79). The neon lights of Tomorrowland are now clearly visible from the Liberty Square riverboat landing; the angular buildings of Tomorrowland restaurants are too visible from Main Street and Fantasyland. Worst of all, the actual perspective of Main Street is ruined. The hub provided a leafy transition from turn-of-the-century Main Street to a fairy tale castle. The “forced perspective [of Main Street], combined with the depth of the Hub beyond the end of the street, opens up a vast and exhilarating vista to the guest entering the park” (The Imagineering Field Guide ot the Magic Kingdom). Without those trees, Main Street looks much smaller; the castle loses much of its mystique and allure. It literally feels as if the castle has been pulled towards the front of the park. Instead of a far away portal to a land of enchantment, it's been reduced to an immense stone structure from Europe plopped down at the end of a very American street. This “mixed message sets up conflicts [and] creates tension” (Hench 79); the sense of balance and proportion is so altered that approaching this lovely castle is no longer inviting or suspenseful.
John Hench believed that “in order to communicate story and character . . . we must always consider the elements of space and time: the spaces through which our guests travel within and between attractions, and the time it takes to do this” (5). The loss of the hub violates the time-honored hallmark of Imagineering design that “each land relates to others in a noncompetitive way - contradictions that would intrude upon what the story seeks to communicate [are] studiously avoided” (WDW: The First Decade 27). The “distant lands of adventure, America’s past, fantasy, and the future” no longer seem so distant.
There is no valid excuse for the removal of the Hub at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom; this travesty mars one of the most famous, most recognizable, most beloved streets in the world. The entire Hub must be replaced, complete with stone benches, lush green grass, flowers, and mature trees with twinkling lights.
It seems that some things should remain immutable in this crazy, upside down world where the only constant is change. There are some places, like National Parks, historical monuments, fairy-tale castles, and Disney imagineered landscapes that ought to be protected from the vagaries and fashions of the marketing plans of a disposable culture.
The power of the Disney parks to move and inspire cannot be underestimated: What other man-made structures pull at the heartstrings of so many people worldwide as those created by Disney? The Magic Kingdom’s signature Hub must be restored to its original warmth and integrity in order to fulfill Walt’s vision of parks that grow more beautiful with each passing year."
Amen, brother, amen... the only place where I might disagree with the above is where he says the castle looks like an "immense stone structure." IMO, the castle's great weakness has always been that the fiberglass and gypsum materials used in its facades (particularly the smooth, non-brick upper portions) can make it look plastic and kitschy, especially in daylight.
Tokyo mitigates this somewhat by using a fading color scheme to simulate actual stone. In the Magic Kingdom, being partially-obscured behind the real living trees of the plaza was the castle's saving grace - allowing the more cynical visitors to still be enchanted by the view. With the trees gone, the castle looks bigger, faker and more ostentatious.
Alas, even if (new) management began to replant trees (not the shrubs they currently have) in the Central Plaza tomorrow, it would take decades to realize the arboreal splendor that was destroyed 2003-2009. Still, it ought to be done asap.