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Monday, January 11, 2010

Flashback Monday: Reston, the Inspiration for Epcot, Except Maybe for All That Meat on a Stick

epcot003.jpgWe all know how seminal Reston has been for generations of urban planners, and how it singlehandedly won the Cold War. But did you know Reston was also one of Walt Disney's inspirations when he was knocking around the idea of building the Epcot Center?

Near the end of his life, Disney turned his attentions to the plight of America’s cities. “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?”[4] For Walt Disney, the answer was central Florida, on a 27,400-acre parcel purchased largely for that purpose.

The new city Disney described was to be part of the ‘Florida Project,’ a multi-year development on a huge tract of Florida swamp and scrub, the first portion of which was to become the East Coast version of Disneyland. But while his staff toiled on plans for the new theme park, Disney himself was consumed with the prospect of planning an urban landscape unlike anything that had come before. He read voraciously about city planning, and even made special trips to the new towns of Reston, Virginia and Columbia, Maryland.

As to who would live in EPCOT, Walt was somewhat explicit: “There will be no retirees. Everyone must be employed. One of our requirements is that people who live in EPCOT must keep it alive.”[12] This proposition seems counterintuitive for a man well into his sixties, whose business partner and older brother (Roy O. Disney) was considering retirement. But it does fit with EPCOT’s grounding in capitalism and industry: a city designed to ‘showcase American free enterprise’ should, by this logic, be filled with those who would work and produce. It should also be noted that Walt had spent his entire career providing and marketing entertainment to the American nuclear family. The middle class family was his focal point, and he designed a city just for them.
Sadly, he died before his plans could come to fruition, and instead of a mauve planned residential community, Epcot became a theme park known mostly for its purportedly "international" collection of meats on a stick.
Walt would not live to see the ground-breaking at Disney World, and never had the opportunity to construct EPCOT in the way he envisioned. He succumbed to cancer in December 1966 after a brief but heartbreaking battle. A Disney theme park called Epcot eventually opened in Florida in 1982, but it more closely resembled a permanent World’s Fair than Walt’s technology-driven utopia. Many of Walt Disney’s urban planning ideas, however, have manifested themselves in the absolutely unique blend of public and private space found today in Florida’s Magic Kingdom.
Also, there's no truth to the rumor that his cryogenically frozen head is located in a secret underground facility at the base of the fountain in Lake Anne.


  1. Restons who may want to get out but don't want to walk around outside may want to consider going to Hunter's Woods and walking around the very large main room. At one time RCC was very interested in the physical fitness of indoor tennis players. Here's a way a lot of us can stay in shape at absolutely no cost to anyone. The RCC main room is hung with interesting local art and there is even free tea and coffee in the morning. Walking is said to be one of the best exercises.

    Can I say this? Well once I corresponded with executive director Leila Gordon who thought it was a great idea and was even going to put it in her catalogue.

  2. Little known fact...Mickey Mouse wears a Milt Matthews wristwatch.

  3. BICO: I'll be in the tunnel under Reston Parkway near the bookstore on Wednesday evening if you can make it? I'll be whistling "Beautiful Dreamer". I need someone to massage my arthritic joint. -Bob


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