How Walt Disney Invented America

There’s an excellent piece in the March National Geographic that explores how Walt Disney’s vision of Orlando set the mold for the exurbs (“A region lying beyond the suburbs of a city, especially one inhabited principally by wealthy people”) proliferating across America.

A dream that now seems deferred, if not derailed:

Today Orlando is a cauldron of all the communal characteristics Disney sought to control. In its Parramore district, you can stock up on crack, meth, and angel dust. According to the Morgan Quinto research firm, in 2006 it joined such cities as Detroit and St. Louis to become one of the 25 most dangerous cities in America. The result is armed guards at the gates of “communities” where entry is solely by invitation. The Orlando area has one of the highest Pedestrian death rates among the largest metro regions in the country. Four decades after Disney’s fateful flyover, Orlando is a place of enormous vitality, diversity, and disappointed hopes, where no clown in a character costume can tell people how to live, let alone where to park.

— BEN POPKEN

The Theme-Parking, Megachurching, Franchising, Exurbing, McMansioning of America: How Walt Disney Changed Everything [National Geographic]

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  1. Maulleigh says:

    Back in my events planning days, we had a big show at the Anaheim convention center. I’m sure the mayor of Anaheim, CA had his stool at the right hand of Bob Iger’s desk.

  2. Sudonum says:

    @Maulleigh: I used to work at the Hilton next door to the Anaheim Convention Center. At that time the mayor could not be seperated from Eisners posterior. However recently the City of Anaheim seems to have grown some cajones http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-disney2mar02,1,198
    They are fighting over affordable housing near the park.

  3. davere says:

    I don’t know, I mean, I live in Orlando and like other cities, it has nice areas and dangerous areas. To me it doesn’t feel much different than most any other place I’ve ever lived in, except that here when I get bored I go and hit a theme park or water park instead of sitting at home watching TV.

  4. faust1200 says:

    I lived in Orlando for a few years. It’s pretty nice there. Crime just looks more newsworthy when it’s juxtaposed with happy happy Disney World. I’m sure Miami for example is much much worse.

  5. acambras says:

    Yeah, sadly I think lots of sprawling metropolitan areas face those problems. Like faust1200 says, it all seems more sinister juxtaposed with Disney.

  6. LintMan says:

    Another Orlando resident here – there’s good and bad parts, like most other places I’ve lived.

    There are gated communities around, but they’re not prevalent and it’s mostly a prestige thing, IMHO. The ones I’ve seen don’t have armed guards, or any guards at all for the most part. Maybe the ones Tiger Woods, Shaq, and Arnold Palmer live in have armed guards.

    I read about Orlando on highest pedestrian death rate list when it came out. I don’t recall the details anymore, but local officials at the time complained IIRC that the ranking was unfair because it was percentage-based, rather than an actual number (ie: deaths per perdestrian-trip or something), and the amount of pedestrian traffic presumed by the study greatly underestimated the actual amount because of circumstances in Orlando which the study doesn’t account for.

    That said, I know which two intersections were the ones rated most lethal, and you’d have to be crazy to want to walk across them. Just nuts.

  7. adropp says:

    A great article!

  8. j.b. says:

    My parents live off 192, in Kissimmee. I live in NYC. They moved there from NY when I was in college, but started looking for a house when I was still in high school. I could never wrap my mind around the words necessary to describe how alien and unpleasant it was to accompany them on these house-hunting trips. I still struggle with it, as a father of a 1 year old. I realize now that a lot of it had to do with my failure to understand their motivations in moving there and how it kind of felt like I was being abandoned, but there was still something else. The article clarified the dread I felt at the time – an entire metropolitan region that existed at the sufference of a recreational service industry.

    The City skewed my sense of what it means to be a ‘real’ place. The impression of frailty and impermanence I felt there as a teenager scared the hell out of me. It scared me that my parents would throw in their lot with such a place without what seemed like a moment’s hesitation.

    Nowadays, I don’t feel the same about Orlando. I understand better, if imperfectly, the illusion of permanence. People in Orlando live their lives, same as anyone and anywhere else.

    I still don’t enjoy Disney or the area’s pref-fab/strip-mall venues, but it helps to read stuff like this to find your balance. You can always find something to appreciate about anywhere. I’ve been to the temple he mentions, La Coq au Vin is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, deep-sea fishing is awesome and the used book stores are a lot of fun.

    So yeah, great article.

  9. chimmike says:

    I grew up in a small town east of Orlando. I remember driving to the Orlando airport now and then, and the drive was 50 miles of swamp, then scrub oaks, then pines. Now, it’s swamp, a housing development, cattle ranches, scrub oaks, pines, another large housing development, a new toll road, and then the airport.

    It’s a totally different town even now, than it was 5 years ago.

    Kind of sad when I think about it.