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Walt and the Promise of Progress City Paperback – October 4, 2011
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From the Author
- Disney Legend Marty Sklar
- Lee Cockerell, Retired & Inspired WDW Executive VP
- Jim Hill, Jim Hill Media
- George Taylor, Imaginerding
- Ryan Wilson, Main Street Gazette
From the Back Cover
A tour de force. this is a must-read for any urban planner wanting to understand city-building and how people use urban space. sam gennawey provides a rare glimpse into the creative "backstage" of how walt disney planned his theme parks and the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. the irony is that the future 21st century 'economy of ideas' is finding a happier home on walt's human-scale main street than in an epcot community, an irony walt would have loved.
Marsha V. Rood, FAICP; Principal, URBAN Reinventions
Gennawey not only provides his readers with a deeper understanding of Walt's vision for Progress City, he offers insight into the world of urban design as it relates to theme park design. This book serves as an ideal example of how we can apply a wide variety of principles to help us appreciate Disney's dream of a utopian city.
David Zanolla, Department of Communications, Western Illinois University
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Walt had even more city planning experience--at levels ranging from dealing with the United States government to carpentry, masonry, and janitorial work. When Walt started his business, he did everything--including windows.
Sam Gennawey's "obsession" to learn what motivated Walt Disney to be the most influential urban planner of the 21st Century, and to learn how Walt intended to implement his vision began in 1967 when his mother used Disneyland as a cheap day care center. For $2.50 a day general admission, Sam and his brothers were someplace safe, someplace that engaged their imaginations, someplace magical. Sam's favorite free attraction: Carousel of Progress. This attraction was featured at the New York 1964-1965 World's Fair and moved to Disneyland afterwards. Today, an updated Carousel of Progress graces Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. When Mrs. Gennawey used "Daycare Disneyland" from 1967 to 1973 the ticketing system consisted of a general admission, with A, B, C, D and E Tickets for most of the rides and attractions. Some of the attractions didn't require a ticket. At Carousel of Progress a large 115-foot diorama called Progress City was on display. I was lucky enough to see it in 1972 during my first visit to Disneyland.
Sam Gennawey eventually became an urban planner himself. He begins "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" by defining his terms in the Preface and starts with a feature film, "Magic Highways." This "educational" movie was released in 1958 and is as entertaining an artifact today as it was when first released. Sam uses his background and education well, describing the development of 19th, 20th and 21st Century urban planning and how Walt learned to build his cities. I found out that Walt had planned for a second theme park in Anaheim, a California-themed "second gate" to be built in the Disneyland parking lot! His Florida Project took him and his creative Imagineer team away from that second California theme park. Sam discusses the many people who influenced Walt, both positive and negative influences.
I have one complaint--no index! There is a comprehensive bibliography, a useful table of contents, but "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" isn't indexed. How about fixing that when the second edition is published?
Gennawey spends most of the book building a foundation of knowledge so that Walt's dream of EPCOT is put into context. I recommend a little more research in the history of the 1950's and 1960's too--because otherwise the events leading to the current Walt Disney World won't make sense. I have to applaud Sam's brave decision to trip through time--but he managed to make that history lesson enjoyable for me. Chapter 7 is all about Disneyland and how it set the amusement park industry on its ear. Matter of fact, that "pedestrian mall" called Disneyland demonstrated what a city center could be--establishing the bench mark for clean, safe and friendly. Okay, not everybody plays well with others, and many complain that they feel compelled to conform at Disney theme parks and these tormented souls let the rest of the world know that THEY DON'T LIKE THAT! Disneyland's Main Street USA was influenced by the new enclosed shopping malls--and set the bar higher for commercial and industrial and urban center districts, just as the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank raised the bar for industrial parks. Many of the plans that never became a real "invented place" are almost as impressive as the successful Disney theme parks.
Disneyland is famous for showcasing advanced technology--but in its role as a permanent World's Fair, technology progresses and the installations remain for years, if not decades. Tomorrowland was famous for becoming "Yesterdayland". Today's Epcot suffers from this as well; unfortunately the Carousel of Progress and the diorama of Progress City that captured Sam Gennawey's imagination a half century ago were "updated" because the "cutting edge technologies" showcased became quaint artifacts in museums. The anti-nuclear political movement sank the nuclear power plant planned for EPCOT. Speaking of quaint artifacts, the Monsanto House of the Future has a section in Chapter 15. Don't forget that as laws mutate (mutation is part of evolution) what was possible in politico-legal environments of the past is impossible in today's politico-legal environment. The House of the Future (Disneyland) and the Contemporary Resort (Walt Disney World) showcased innovative pre-fabrication technology that promised to make housing more affordable, easy to update, and the modular design promised great flexibility--but the construction industry is labor intensive. "Labor intensive" spells J-O-B-S. "Labor intensive" spells political careers representing all of these "powerless" workers. Homes are pretty much built the same way they were built in the 1950's, and before. Anybody who has ever had a new home built or who has had their own business NEED to read "Walt and the Promise of Progress City" to find out how Walt managed to lay the foundation for Walt Disney World in a hostile environment. They might be able to use some of Walt's experience.
Examples abound, but let's take the 1960's viewpoint that the land used for the Florida project was stinking swamp and wastelands. Today, urbanite politicians influenced by True Life Adventures have decreed that these are "fragile wetlands" that need the urbanites' "protection" from us nasty humans! On page 328 Sam begins his "The Swamps" by explaining why Walt wanted such inhospitable wastelands--Walt needed a blank canvas to paint the model city. Walt exploited the swamps as a buffer, as a wide, `impassible' berm that separated the "real world" from the "perfect world." The steps that the Disney Company takes to protect the `wetland environment' should shame the urbanite protectionist--it doesn't. I know from experience that these urbanites would run screaming from the stinking swamps and from the many things that feast on humans, ranging from microbes to insect life to the mighty alligators. As I said, these urbanites are Disney products themselves whether they admit it or not--they expect the world to conform to their dreams, as did Walt. Unlike Walt, they haven't got a clue how to transform blighted city centers into that Shining City on a Hill--but perhaps some of them are learning.
After a journey through the past and through the building blocks of urban development, Sam Gennawey finishes with Chapter 14, describing what Progress City promised, and Chapter 15, a speculative visit to EPCOT during 1982. Walt said that EPCOT would take 15 years to build--but he checked out before the process was completed. That is covered in the Epilogue, briefly describing what happened.
The big question at the end: "Would It Have Worked?" Yes, if Walt had two more decades to make it work. That isn't just my conclusion--but Sam Gennawey's and Buzz Price's and a slew of other people much smarter than I. Gennawey quotes the late Buzz Price: "EPCOT would have been more famous than Walt Disney World."
Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World
Walt Disney Treasures - Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond
"Walt and the Promise of Progress City" presents Disney not just as a talented storyteller and master showman, but as a deeply contemplative and practical visionary interested in creating a new style of city. Gennawey provides us with an examination of Walt Disney's relationship to space and place and describes how he became an innovator in theme parks and beyond. This was accomplished through thoughtful attention to detail, an understanding of how space is used and the manner people enter and move through it, and the way in which immersive physical environments create the sense of wonder and well-being we often associate with going to a Disney park.
In 15 chapters and an epilogue, the author tracks Disney's developing interest in urban design and planning from almost the very beginning of his career. Along the way, Gennawey touches on nearly all of Walt's creations, from his studio complex in Burbank, his backyard model railroad, CalArts, and, of course, Disneyland, and places them as stepping stones to a larger urban vision: E.P.C.O.T. (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). This was not the theme park that was eventually built in Walt Disney World, but an actual community where people would live and work. How this ambitious concept morphed into the Epcot we now have makes up a significant portion of the book.
Whether Walt saw things as systematically is open to question, but by creating this mosaic, Gennawey has the workaround opportunity to examine Walt's creations of all sorts--the World's Fair of 1964 attractions, the planned but never built Mineral King resort in the Sierras, and earlier abortive attempts at creating a new urban model prior. Readers curious about the conceptualization and creation of any of those projects will find something of interest in this book. While I have read a fair amount on the design and conceptualization of Disneyland, Gennawey delves into the subject on a deeper level and provided me with a greater insight into the success of the park. It takes a serious look at the ideas and philosophies that informed the men that created Disneyland and WDW and the techniques and methods they employed.
This is probably not a book for the casual fan of Disneyland, Walt Disney World or Epcot, and it's not something kids are going enjoy. This is something of a scholarly work, well researched (there are even footnotes) and informative. That is not to say it's dry, because it is not. Myself, I found it fascinating.
My only real caveat about the book is the total lack of any sort or diagrams, which would have been immensely useful in illustrating some of the concepts Gennawey is talking about, or photos, which would have shown how these concepts were realized in the completed projects. This is an obvious and major omission that holds back a very good book from being an excellent one.