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March 02, 2006

Yesterday's Transport of Tomorrow


What a day you've had browsing through the 1900 Paris Expo! You've just taken a ride on the Mareorama and now you're relaxing in front of the stunning Palais Lumineux. You sigh: it's all been so staggering, so futuristic, but now it's finally time to head on home.

Which would be fine except your feet and legs are a raging fire. All this walking, walking, walking and you swear you can almost hear the sound of your shoes crushing and twisting your poor flesh and bones into grossly unnatural shapes (especially because, in 1900, it is the fashion for you to wear a full shoe size too small or, if you're a woman, to have had your smallest toes cut off). No problem... to ease the pain you hop on board the moving boardwalk.

Expo2_4 a

The Moving Boardwalk. Of all the glitz and glamour and the expo, you can't help but be most impressed by this seemingly simple mechanism. This, you think, this could be the future: speeding through crowded thoroughfares, zooming down to the neighborhood coffee shop, or maybe even finally even making it to that next airport terminal just in time! All with the help of these new-fangled sidewalks.

Pressing forward a bit and what ever happened to all these moving sidewalks (besides the ones in airports)? Seemingly the dream was forgotten. But not by everyone; Mr. Walt Disney kept it alive for awhile. And then some!

Expo15_2 b

Disneyland was chock full of clever transportational devices. Monorails, trains, People Movers, tram cars, boats, buggies, and yes, even a few moving sidewalks. Walt was big into this transportation thing: from an entertainment point of view, convenient transportation was the key to getting tired guests off their feet and keeping them happy. But perhaps more importantly, these vehicles were all part of Walt's vast laboratory – Disneyland was his place to tinker, evolve and perfect some of the hardware required for his much larger vision: a city. This is why Walt was probably flattered when James W. Rouse, Urban Developer of the New Town of Columbia, said in his keynote address before the 1963 Urban Design Conference at Harvard University:

I may hold a view that may be somewhat shocking to an audience as sophisticated as this; that the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland... I find more to learn in the standards that have been set and in the goals that have been achieved in the development of Disneyland than in any other piece of physical development in the country.

Expo4 c

Walt revealed EPCOT in October, 1966. EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. EPCOT was to be "showcase city", a continually evolving community that "doesn't presume to know all the answers," but would take it's cue, Walt said, "from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will," he said, "be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems."

Following in the footsteps of Disneyland, EPCOT would be based on central urban hub encircled by an outer wheel of radial housing, schools, parks and recreation. Transportation "spokes" would run inhabitants to and from the heart of the city. (Which so far reminds me of a much older and smaller city, Palmanova.)

Expo5_2 d

Palmanova e

But EPCOT parts ways from its Italian predecessor with a much more serious implementation of the monorails and People Movers that were pioneered at Disneyland. The city is described as relying on a vastly complex public transportation system, to the extent that inhabitants are "completely safe and seperated from the automobile." There would be an underground level for car travel but public transportation would be preferred simply because there would be zero wait time for the next People Mover.

I can't help but have negative feeling about Walt's EPCOT. Not because I think he couldn't have pulled it off – I've no doubt he could have – but because I don't agree philosphically with the reasoning behind it. Nonetheless, I encourage you to take a look at this short film, in which he describes his first rough plans for the city. It's fascinating. Keep in mind it's the last film he ever made... Walt died later that year and his great dream never came to fruition.

And while you're at it, take a step back to 1900 and watch this short film of the Paris Expo moving boardwalk.

Note: The current EPCOT at Disney World in Florida holds no resemblance to Walt's EPCOT. Anyone who's ever been to it is only too aware that they are required to walk for (what seems like) hundreds of miles... in the blistering sun. It is pure hell. There is no transportation of any kind. There are only your blistered feet and your screaming kids who want to leave because they hate the place and you're trying tell them that it's great but you hate it too. This is not the EPCOT of Walt's dream. This is what Walt would roll over in his grave at (except he's frozen)... Miseryland and Tragic Kingdom.

Expo3 f

Note 2: The People Mover, the Skyway Tram. These have been removed from Disneyland. God knows why. (But why God? Why?) And then that big gold (flashy) monstrosity in Tomorrowland! Yes it certainly does catch everyones eyes! We all gasp! And run to Huck Finn's island. Ahh... relaxation.

a. Moving Boardwalk, Paris Expo
b. Disneyland transporation
c. Walt Disney and EPCOT
d. EPCOT radial design
e. Palmanova aerial photo
f. People Mover

Great photos from Paris Expo
Skyway and People Mover video
Palmanova – Previous post
The Sad Side of EPCOT from EPOT Central

March 2, 2006 | Permalink


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» Tinselman takes on Tomorrowland from The Disney Blog
Robyn at Tinselman has a wonderful post that connects the dots between the 1900 Paris Expo and Walt Disney's transportation systems of Tomorrowland and EPCOT (the original design). [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 3, 2006 6:48:18 PM

» Yesterdays Transport of Tomorrow from The Happiest Page on Earth
The increasingly-impressive Tinselman has a great post up today regarding what we used to think about futuristic transportation, including quite a bit on both Disneyland and Walts original concepts for EPCOT: Following in the footsteps of Disney... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 7, 2006 3:31:50 PM

» Yesterdays Transport of Tomorrow from The Happiest Page on Earth
The increasingly-impressive Tinselman has a great post up today (oops. the BoingBoing post was today, the Tinselman post was last week. I even missed that John got to this already) regarding what we used to think about futuristic transportation, includ... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 7, 2006 3:37:18 PM

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http://tinselman.typepad.com/tinselman/2006/03/_youre_at_the_1.html via Boin... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 8, 2006 6:21:06 AM


Yes, you do have to walk a LOT at the EPCOT in Florida (I went there during a band trip this summer). In fact, they even make you walk all the way around the world. The dirty devils...

Posted by: Joelson | Mar 3, 2006 1:30:46 PM

Notice the background music while Walt is speaking. Kinda ironic since rumor has it they're going to shutter the carousel of tomorrow.

Posted by: Jacques | Mar 4, 2006 8:58:48 PM

I don't want to be too obvious in response to a bit of repeated rhetoric which may be a stylish catchphrase for you, nor do I want to add to any urban legend but...

Wasn't the skyway tram taken down because people were using the ride for smoking dope, or spitting on those walking below?

Posted by: Bud | Mar 4, 2006 9:02:51 PM

When I was in college, some friends and I used the Skyway at Disneyland to film an overhead shot in a chase scene of a little super-8 film. Better than a crane or a helicopter.

Posted by: JTony | Mar 4, 2006 11:18:20 PM

The reasons (Disney claims) that the Skyway was taken down are laid out in this Snopes urban legend debunk.


In short, it was closed down because it was deemed too expensive to operate or bring up to modern safety standards.

Posted by: Robotech_Master | Mar 7, 2006 3:17:32 PM

Intelligent Transportation Corp has 3 projects to build the Physical Internet; a network of ultra-light vehicles suspended from rails, moving rider (s) on demand.

Visit www.IntelligentTransportation.com to see how this can automate repetitive travel. It applies to about 4 of the 8 billion miles Americans drive every day. It cuts the cost and waste of "moving a ton to move a person" towards "moving only the person".

Bill James

Posted by: Bill James | Mar 9, 2006 4:23:34 AM

Anyone ever hear of the people mover system at West VA University. A 1960's concept up and running since 1972. Simple design, low tech by today's standards, safe and efficient. check it out at http://faculty.washington.edu/~jbs/itrans/morg.htm for example or just google it.

Posted by: romain | Mar 9, 2006 8:58:25 AM

Intresting! I wasn't aware that everyone wore shoes too small back in the 1900's or that women cut off their smallest toes!

Posted by: Rusty | Mar 7, 2008 10:04:54 AM

I disagree about your analysis of EPCOT as it currently is - this place is all about the future! Sure, it's not a future city, but it did compile Walt's ideas for how we can create a better tomorrow. The World Showcase is what he wanted the shopping district of EPCOT (the city) to be like. The pavillions in Future World at the current EPCOT are all presentations of ideas for the future that Walt had wanted to incorporate at EPCOT the city.

So while it's not what he invisioned, it's filled with his spirit. Oh, and 11 million park visitors a year hardly means people hate it. I believe it is the 3rd most attended theme park in the world, only behind the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.

Posted by: gust | Oct 25, 2008 6:49:57 AM

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