About 110 km north of Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of a semi-arid desert, you’ll find an odd sight: a community of rough concrete buildings sitting on a mesa. Inside, brass and ceramic wind-bells are cast and sold, construction on the development continues, and, in theory, all the needs of a modern city are met with minimal environmental impact. This is Arcosanti, the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, built to prove his vision of architecture and ecology working hand in hand. Read more
Written in 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a seminal work in urban planning. The work is a condemnation of orthodox planning, especially that based in the work of Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier. These ideas, Jacobs argues, are paternalistic and controlling, and lack any understanding of real cities. She also defines a new paradigm for urban planning, based in people and the complex truth of cities, which she sees as a “problem of organized complexity.” Throughout the work, she argues that solving the problems of urban life requires a more in depth understanding of the interactions of people and the built environment on every scale. Read more
The original project that spawned this blog asked the question: Was EPCOT a smart city? The term “smart city” has sprung up in the early 21st century to describe any city using new technology and data-driven strategies to improve the lives of residents. Dr. Margarita Angelidou, in her paper titled “The Role of Smart City Characteristics in the Plans of Fifteen Cities,” lays out 10 characteristics of smart cities, and sees how well various modern smart city projects measure up. Here, I’d like to do the same for Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Read more
On October 27, 1966, just a few months before his death, Walt Disney recorded a 25-minute film in which he laid out a grand plan for the 27,000 acres his company had recently purchased in central Florida. Speculation had been rampant, but this “Florida Film” was the first time Disney showed his hand. It was here that he detailed plans for what would become the Magic Kingdom and, eventually, Walt Disney World Resort, but this was far from the film’s focus. Instead, Disney was proposing an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. EPCOT, as it would be called, would be a city of 20,000, drawing on the “new ideas and new technologies” of American industry.
The Epcot Center, which opened in 1981 and remains in operation, is not this city. Only now are governments, companies, and people around the world beginning to build communities as forward thinking as EPCOT was in 1966. As the foundations of today’s smart cities are laid, we should take a moment to ask what Walt Disney’s vision can tell us about our future.