This week, huge news has been released by The Walt Disney Company. It wasn’t a new movie or a new theme park attraction, or even the acquisition of another major entertainment company; it was the news that Disney will build its own planned community. Called Storyliving by Disney, a development is already in its infancy in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and it’s only meant to be the first of several such communities.
This news elicited a number of different reactions. Many fans celebrated the idea, because living somewhere that offered the same Disney magic we get at theme parks was an appealing idea. Others thought it was crazy and “Disney Adults” was really out of control if they were going to spend money on it.
Disney itself has also been criticized as the massive entertainment giant that has already cornered the market for our entertainment choices and vacation options, and the company has clearly taken things to a terrible new level if it wants now that people are having a Disney experience every hour of the day. But the thing is, the idea of a Disney community isn’t actually new. Disney has attempted to build variations on this idea dating back to the 1960s and Walt Disney himself. Here’s a look at every time Disney has tried to build a place you might want to live, including some where people currently live.
Today, we know Epcot as the name of a theme park inside Walt Disney World, but the park itself is all that remains of Walt Disney’s original vision for Walt Disney World. He didn’t want to build a vacation destination. He wanted to build a city he called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.
EPCOT was a fully functioning city. It would have an urban core that would decrease in density as you move away from the center. There would be an industrial park where companies would manufacture advanced products. The townspeople would also work there, and their homes would become test centers for new products before they were released to the public. More interestingly, there would be no cars. Travel within EPCOT would be via monorails and PeopleMovers. Residents would be encouraged not to even own cars.
There was many problems with the original Walt Disney concept, and so the idea continued to evolve over time. However, it could not continue to evolve beyond December 1966. When Walt Disney died, most of the company was not very interested in moving forward, and everyone who did actually had no idea how to move on without Walt.
City of Lake Buena Vista
The ultimate idea for EPCOT died with Walt Disney, but that doesn’t mean there was no point in trying to create at least part of Walt’s vision. The first idea originated in the mid-1970s. After the opening and success of the Magic Kingdom, the company came up with the idea of building a residential community within the boundaries of the Disney World property. The idea became the town of Lake Buena Vista. It would consist of a commercial complex, as well as a residential section where up to 2,000 homes would be built.
The shopping district was built and completed in a short time. Today it’s called Disney Springs, and it’s a major part of the Disney World experience with fully-fledged attractions, but only a fraction of the residential units would ever be built. Disney fell victim to one of the same problems that plagued Walt’s original EPCOT idea: that residents would want the right to vote and they could vote contrary to what the Disney organization wanted. The idea of permanent residents was dropped and the residential units that had been built became temporary residences for visiting Disney executives and vacation rentals.
Disney will eventually build its own residential area. On an unused parcel of land in the corner of the Disney World property, Disney would build Celebration, a planned community made by Disney in the 1990s, it was supposed to be like living on Main Street USA, while using some elements of Walt’s technological innovation plans from EPCOT, primarily in K-12. Demand for the houses was so high when they came on the market that they were allocated by lottery.
The celebration had lots of initial growing pains. The houses were built by several contracting companies and they were built quickly, resulting in many initial complaints. Attempts to use state-of-the-art techniques in school, many of which had not been fully tested, led to complaints from parents.
Eventually, after many of these issues were resolved, all the houses were built and sold. Disney’s only remaining stake in Celebration was Downtown, which it sold in 2003. Thus, Disney is no longer directly involved in Celebration, but the town still exists with thousands of residents.
Golden Oak at Walt Disney World
After Disney divested the last of Celebration, the company wouldn’t be done with residential development for long. Golden Oak at Walt Disney World was announced in 2010. It is an upscale residential development, with all homes in the six neighborhoods made up of multi-million dollar properties. Many were built with Disney references, like hidden mickeys, and some of the neighborhood names have Disney ties.
The main thing that separates Golden Oak from Celebration (beyond home prices) is that, while Celebration was built on the edge of Walt Disney World, and is therefore technically no longer on the property, Golden Oak is right in middle of the resort, so it’s the only place you can really live in Disney World.
Storyliving by Disney
This brings us to the present day and the new Storyliving by Disney concept. As with the other projects listed here, Disney isn’t actually the company responsible for building the community, but Walt Disney Imagineering is involved, in order to give it that special Disney touch, which may be the thing that really separates Storyliving. from the previous one. attempts.
As you can see, Disney has been trying to find a way to be part of residential life for decades. Some of the attempts worked quite well, but others not so much. We’re expected to see more of these Storyliving developments in the years to come, and if done right, there’s sure to be more than enough people willing to give Disney a shot. They already have.