A Disney World

"Walt Disney wanted to be frozen," Bob Nelson says, as casually as if he were talking about municipal bonds. "Lots of people think that he was, and that the body's in cold storage in his basement. The truth is, Walt missed out. He never specified it in writing, and when he died the family didn't go for it. They had him cremated. I personally have seen his ashes. They're in Forest Lawn. Two weeks later we froze the first man. If Disney had been the first it would have made headlines around the world and been a real shot in the arm for cryonics. But that's the way it goes."

-Bob Nelson, interview for the Los Angeles times, 1972

[Note: Due to a glitch, a brief segment of the video repeats once.]

We don't have a frozen head from 1966, but we do have a frozen future. The embedded film describes the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. A for profit city that is also an industrial park for cutting edge industry, with room for future technology. It was an experimental city designed to be easy to update both with outside innovation and with the results of its own large scale experiments in social, manufacturing, construction and transport technology. A planned environment, that would succeed or fail on its own merits, in what remained of the American free enterprise system. It was the central component of a massive development, "the Florida project" that would turn prime positioned but worthless swampland into valuable real-estate.

I call it a future rather than a dream, because Walt Disney took concrete and bold steps towards realizing it. His first barrier was facing resistance from his own board of directors, who wanted the company to stick to the market it had previously cornered. When they looked over his proposal, they advised removing the novel components and instead simply building another amusement park. Instead, he kept his focus on solving the problem of city design. To let his board save face, he added on a small amusement park.

His company acquired the necessary land, essentially in secret, with ample misdirection concerning their plans, so that competitors, speculators and rent seekers would not know what they were doing. He then proceeded to have the State of Florida cede important functions of government to his own alternative, the Reedy Creek Improvement District:

A five-member Board of Supervisors governs the District, elected by the landowners of the District. These members, senior employees of The Walt Disney Company, each own undeveloped five-acre (20,235 m²) lots of land within the District, the only land in the District not technically controlled by Disney or used for public road purposes. The only residents of the District, also Disney employees or their immediate family members, live in two small communities, one in each city. In the 2000 census, Bay Lake had 23 residents, all in the community on the north shore of Bay Lake, and Lake Buena Vista had 16 residents, all in the community about a mile north of Downtown Disney.These residents elect the officials of the cities, but since they don't actually own any land, they don't have any power in electing the District Board of Supervisors.

It is quite remarkable something like this could be done. According to scholars like Richard Foglesong the Disney Corporation of today still makes use of these mechanisms to remain in complete control of the district. Squandering their potential perhaps, but clearly demonstrating them viable for creating autonomous zones that could enable an unprecedented flexibility of management, logistics and regulation. Together with the services of his famous imagineers, it seems Disney had everything needed to radically revise and adapt, build and tear down, learn and discover until his goal was achieved. The machinery of a company, that could route around the damage inflicted on American cities in the 1970s was nearly complete.

Unfortunately, the project stopped in 1966 and this future never came to be. The film offers a clue as to why. At the time of its making, Walt Disney is already noticeably weak, supporting himself and sitting down more than necessary. After he died of lung cancer there was no one in Disney who could or wanted to conquer this new market. Internal fighting and competition over power and resources began, preoccupying those who remained. Without this key brilliant mind the Disney Corporation simply couldn't comprehend the plan. It translated an experimental vision of the future into something it understood. An amusement park.

The EPCOT of the 1980s, the one we know today, is in its best moments merely a tribute, and at its worst, a subtle mockery. It possesses a short memory for failed predictions, and claims no knowledge about the future. Its substance is entertaining speculation, all the while believing things will somehow turn out well.

Frozen futures, however, can lie in wait, whispering "Realize me!" to those who will listen. And when the stars come right again, especially sensitive individuals may be somehow convinced to revive them. But the editors of this blog must disclaim as superstition any suggestion that we have been convinced of any such thing by any mysterious phone calls...