I love to learn. Maybe it’s a holdover from years with education-obsessed parents; maybe it’s a side effect of my lifelong love affair with books and information. Whatever it is, there are few things that make me happier than unearthing something new and interesting and understanding it well enough that I can share that new discovery with others. Don’t get me wrong – I know all about willing suspension of disbelief, and I like a good fantasy better than your average Jane. But when the context calls for it, I want to learn.
That love of learning frames my earliest theme park experiences. Looking back at my childhood, most of my ark memories come from 2 locations – Busch Gardens (I always loved animals) and EPCOT Center. My parents really started taking me to Disney shortly after EPCOT Center opened to the public in 1982 because they were delighted with the educational aspects of the park. As a family that took most of its trips to visit museums, EPCOT fit in with my parents focus…and I certainly wasn’t objecting.
As a child, I adored almost everything Future World had to offer. I spent countless hours in the Image Works playground at Journey into Imagination. I had to be peeled out of The Living Seas where I tried every undersea exploration suit and submersible, watched the divers enter the “sea lock,” and read every information plaque about the animals on display. I loved all of the hands-on experiments in Wonders of Life, and I still have fond memories of the video bicycles that let you “ride” through the Magic Kingdom and the tests of how inadequate the nervous system is in telling hot from cold! It was at Communicore that I first learned about economic supply and demand from a free comic featuring Scrooge McDuck.
EPCOT Center, as a Disney theme park, was a lot of fun, but it was deeply foused on two things: education and the future. That pair made a great combination, promoting the idea that only through learning and imagination could we reach the amazing things promised at Horizons and Sea Base Alpha. The future, EPCOT Center proposed, was out there, and if we learned and worked, we could make it a better place for all mankind.
That vision came, in part, from Disney Imagineers’ attempt to bring Walt’s dream to fruition. When Walt started the Florida Project, he began with a vision far greater than any theme park. Walt wanted to create what imagineer John Hench jokingly called “Waltopia” – an “Environmental Prototype Community” that would address problems like urban overcrowding, transportation, poor education, and inner-city crime with technology and planning. Walt wanted to prove that American cities could be showplaces not slums, and he wanted to do it in Central Florida. For Walt, the Magic Kingdom was just a “weenie,” a way to draw attention to the real attraction – the community of tomorrow that showed just what humanity could accomplish.
When imagineers returned to Walt’s vision after his death, they quickly abandoned “Waltopia” in favor of a theme park that remained loyal to Walt’s vision of improving mankind and solving social problems. In the introduction to the official 1982 Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center, Marty Sklar described the park as “a permanent world’s fair of imagination, discovery, education, and exploration…to inspire the visitors who come here, so that they will be turned on to the positive potential of the future and will want to participate in making the choices that will shape it. We believe that in a world where cynicism and negativism abound, there is another story, and we have chosen, with forethought and conviction, to tell it, and to be that voice of optimism.” EPCOT Center was going to be a place about educating people to create tomorrow.
It isn’t that way anymore.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »