Walt Disney wanted to build a city.
You’ve probably heard of it. You might even have been there — though it’s not quite what Walt had in mind, back in 1966, when he announced plans for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
It wasn’t going to be just a much bigger theme park like his Disneyland in Southern California. No, this swath of central Florida swamp was going to be a real, live city, home to maybe 20,000 people, with houses, apartments, schools, parks, a central hotel/convention center/shopping district and an industrial park nearby.
Disney didn’t just want to build a new city. He wanted to build the city anew. With electric-powered public transportation running everywhere, lots of open green space, a clean and safe super-pedestrian-friendly city with every new bell and whistle his corps of Imagineers and other pillars of the American industrial elite could dream up.
If you have been to EPCOT, you know it didn’t quite work out that way.
Only a couple of months after announcing his dream — in a Disney-produced film — Disney died, and the idea died with him. So now EPCOT is part of the Disney World theme parks, with the giant golf ball in the middle and nation-themed shops and restaurants scattered about.
A nice place to visit, but nobody lives there.
Disney’s original plan betrays a faith in technology, central planning and big corporations that has not necessarily aged well over the past 54 years.
The original idea, as reported by the unofficial Disney historians at AllEars.net, was that EPCOT would be a company town. Disney would own all the property. All the homes and apartments would be open only to people who worked there. There would be no local elections. After all, Disney stories generally take place in monarchies.
EPCOT managers would have been free to come into your home whenever they wanted to install the newest prototype TV or refrigerator or dishwasher or thermostat. On the assumption that you’d be eager to try it out and let the manufacturers know what you thought.
Still, those of us living in the Ogden-to-Salt Lake City-to-Provo megalopolis may see things in Disney’s urban dream that we would envy.
EPCOT, meet the Point of The Mountain.
That’s the 700 acres of what will be vacant land in a couple of years, when the state prison that sits at the south end of Salt Lake County moves to its new home west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
The fact that it sits in the heart of what’s come to be known as Silicon Slopes, the mushrooming high-tech business corridor that straddles Salt Lake and Utah counties and that all the land is owned by the state creates an opportunity for a whole new way of building a city.
The state’s Point of the Mountain Development Commission has been sketching out ideas for a couple of years already and will soon be moving on to more specific plans, with opportunities for public input.
A “planned community” may still sound a little too Soviet for Utah ears. Though the heaviest lift may be overcoming widespread suspicion that the whole thing will turn out to be the opposite of a logical plan, just another opportunity for the state’s true ruling class — real estate developers — to make private bank at the expense of public land, public interest and public health.
This is Utah, after all. (Though such fears would be justified in lots of other places. Say, central Florida.)
This is a chance to take a page from Walt Disney, with a little Steve Jobs-founded Pixar mixed in, to create a place where real people can live, work and play in a place that is open, green and carbon-neutral, or better. And all the power lines are underground so falling trees don’t knock them down.
A place with transportation and other infrastructure put in first instead of squeezed in afterward — avoiding the risk that, instead of being Tomorrowland, it will be the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode from “The Simpsons.”
A place where vehicles are electric, charged not just at stations but from the very road they drive on.
And flying cars.
The reasonable hope is that the place will be so attractive to developers that we can afford to be extremely persnickety about what gets built there. With little or no public seed money.
Only super-energy-efficient structures, housing high-paying jobs that will lift the tax base, and lift it now, not after 20 years when tax incentive deals expire and the rest of us have already paid for the roads and schools and fire stations the development demanded.
And be self-contained enough to place minimal stress on the transportation network and other public services up and down the Interstate 15 corridor.
And flying cars. Well, flying delivery drones, anyway.
A fairy tale? Maybe. But, if we set our standards high enough, and stick to them, maybe a star to wish upon.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, enjoyed the heck out of himself at Walt Disney World. When he was 53 years old.