Disney recently announced an all-new initiative allowing fans to live in communities created by the company called Storyliving. As part of Storyliving, fans will be able to live in Disney-created communities across the country, planned in desirable locations with the renowned service and attention to detail in theming, events, and recreational offerings that the Disney brand is known for. Are finally seeing Walt’s dream for an ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow’ come to fruition? Let’s take a look!
The concept of a planned community had been on Walt Disney’s mind for years following the opening of Disneyland, however, the idea was only introduced publicly in the year following his death.
In October 1966, Walt and a team of Imagineers filmed a promotional video to introduce EPCOT at the Walt Disney Studios. In the video, Walt explains how the community would be designed to maximize efficiency, safety, and the quality of life for residents while outlining new concepts for mass transit, and some uniquely futuristic amenities that certainly would have been fascinating to see come to life.
As Walt explained, EPCOT would have been an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” The planned city would have been nearby what today is the Magic Kingdom, allowing for tourist amenities to be located in the same general area, with a centrally located downtown setting and suburbs to the south and an offshoot of manufacturing facilities and offices.
Monorails would have connected the different areas of EPCOT and other tourist and work facilities that were greater distances apart, while PeopleMover vehicles would have transported residents and Guests between the city center and the suburbs. For those driving personal cars, roadways and parking would have been encompassed on a lower level from the entire community so that EPCOT’s streets would be entirely pedestrian-friendly, and a major highway would have run underneath the center of the site connecting EPCOT to Florida’s major highways.
Another interesting early EPCOT concept (shown only in the promotional film, not in specifically laid out plans) was the dome that would have covered the entire city to ensure people could always spend time outside without being affected by the weather.
In terms of life at EPCOT, Walt’s original concept was two-fold with an emphasis on both American industry and how the latest technology could best serve everyday Americans and amenities that would make living in EPCOT enjoyable. In terms of American industry, Walt was heavily inspired by World’s Fairs, and specifically, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair where the Walt Disney Company debuted such attractions as “it’s a small world” and The Carousel of Progress.
For amenities, EPCOT would have included an international shopping area (something today’s World Showcase was inspired by) along with a green belt offering plenty of spaces for residents to spend time outdoors, all kinds of sports, athletic, and recreational facilities, and of course, restaurants and entertainment.
Walt had intended to use the EPCOT video as a sort of sales tool to get American companies to buy into the idea and support the project, but it never ended up getting to this point. The video was shown to legislatures in Florida in 1967, but the idea was ultimately abandoned with the company unsure of how to continue the project without Walt’s leadership.
Walt’s passion for EPCOT cannot be understated, and when he died Imagineers were certainly tasked with quite the project of deciphering what to do with EPCOT without its founder.
Speaking on the concept, Walt said:
I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin…How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land, and building a special kind of new community.
There are certain similarities between the all-new Disney Storyliving concept and EPCOT to be sure, but will these new communities finally be Walt’s dream realized? Well, I don’t think so.
Storyliving’s focus could certainly change, but so far it seems to prioritize the things that Guests know and love about Disney’s theme parks with communities that will employ Disney Cast Members and provide excellent service and recreational amenities along with community events.
The Storyliving concept definitely has nods to Disney history, especially with the first community being located in Rancho Mirage, CA, which was once a favorite destination of Walt and his wife Lillian’s. Moreover, Storyliving is set to feature unique curated experiences, that are sure to be memorable given Disney’s experience in crafting immersive activities. And, surely the idea for a planned community, in general, is derived from EPCOT.
What’s missing though, is the focus on American industry and using this community as a sort of blueprint for others across the country. Walt’s EPCOT was to serve as a model for American communities in general. It was not perfect by any means, and if you want to read deeper into it I’m sure you could easily pick out a number of “gentrification-like” problems that might have come out of such an idea, but the intention was ultimately to solve problems of American cities and find ways to work with industries to make them desirable places to live, work, and spend free time and money.
Storyliving, at least with what we know so far, seems like the more (upper) middle class version of Disney’s Golden Oak property, which is made up of multi-million dollar homes with Disney concierge services and special perks and activities. Golden Oak has some light theming in certain areas, and a team of concierge Cast Members, but this is really just a gated community with no downtown, shops, or restaurants, or any additional ability to create more curated experiences outside of the home. Storyliving differs in this sense where each community will feature such businesses, but I still can’t conclude that it seems comparable to EPCOT.
In short, the intention of Storyliving seems to cater to the interests of the Walt Disney Company and its fans, whereas the intention of EPCOT while still business/customer-oriented also sought to solve problems that impact all kinds of communities across the country.
In Storyliving’s defense, so many aspects of the original EPCOT concept would not be possible today, and if EPCOT were to happen it surely would have evolved with the times, so it is difficult to compare Walt’s dream with the Storyliving concept. As a result, I am more inclined to compare Storyliving to Golden Oak, or even to the town of Celebration. For Celebration, the Walt Disney Company originally developed the planned community, but it no longer fully operates it for a number of reasons. Still, a major road that runs through town connects Celebration to the Walt Disney World Resort, and a couple of utility companies are still run under the Walt Disney Company umbrella.
In my opinion, Storyliving is inspired by EPCOT in the same way Disney’s Animal Kingdom is inspired by the Jungle Cruise or Disney’s True-Life Adventures films. EPCOT served as the initial idea for any kind of a planned community by the Walt Disney Company, but industry and residential expectations, plus the realities of American cities have changed so greatly from Walt’s proposal that we can respect EPCOT as the source of inspiration, but comparing the two is nearly impossible.