How Disneyland's Main Street, USA, Changed the Design and Preservation of American Cities | KCET
How Disneyland's Main Street, USA, Changed the Design and Preservation of American Cities
Walt Disney didn't set out to revolutionize urban design when he created Disneyland – that's what his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, was for. But whereas EPCOT never became more than a sort of permanent world's fair, it was Disneyland and especially its Main Street, USA, that ultimately changed the way we think about the built environment.
It's hard to overstate how radical a constructed cityscape Main Street, USA, was when it opened in Anaheim in 1955. Across the U.S., cities and towns were tearing out their historic downtowns in favor of automobile-oriented cityscapes: sprawling parking lots, streets built to highway specifications, large insular buildings that spurned the city outside.
Among the tens of millions of Americans who strolled into Disneyland, this modern mode of city-making drew unfavorable comparisons with what they experienced on Main Street, USA. It felt good to walk through Disney's city, with its varied facades and approachable architecture. Pedestrians were even welcome in the roadway, which they shared with motorcars and horse-drawn railcars.
But could Disney's nostalgic reimagining of small-town America actually change the way architects and planners approached cities? That's the conclusion architectural historian Vincent Scully – an unforgiving critic who once wrote that Disney "so vulgarizes everything he touches that facts lose all force" – reaches in his foreword to Beth Dunlop's "Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture" (1996):
But Main Street, USA, did more than provide a foil to modernist urban design. It also, Scully writes, inspired Americans to think more carefully about their architectural heritage:
Ironically, sadly, that great architectural achievement came too late for Anaheim's real downtown. In 1973 – just 18 years after Disneyland's opening – Anaheim enacted its imperiously named Redevelopment Project Alpha, erasing much of its historic core in the name of urban renewal, leaving Main Street, USA, as one of the city's few remaining pedestrian-oriented streetscapes.
A version of this article first appeared on Gizmodo's Southland subdomain on June 18, 2014.
More Stories on Disneyland
When we feel lonely, a simple call from someone who cares can truly help. For artists, Kristy Edmunds is that kindred spirit. For her, kindness can manifest in the care artists put into performances or the help we can give by comissioning work.
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters has received more than 560,000 ballots, it was announced, more than three times the amount received at this point before the 2016 election.
Today, a cadre of local activists and artists in Watts are using storytelling and human relationships to promote change, justice, equality and communal values.
In such a controversial campaign as Proposition 187, art and politics inenvitably mix. During the 1990s a number of politicians (established and aspiring) helped shape the campaign, as artists on the ground informed the public and inspired them to act.
Explore the lasting impact of the Shindana Toy Company, created out of the need for community empowerment following the 1965 Watts uprising, whose ethnically correct black dolls forever changed the American doll industry.
This episode explores how Yosemite has changed over time: from a land maintained by indigenous peoples; to its emergence as a tourist attraction; to the site of conflict over humanity’s relationship with nature.
California’s deserts have sparked imaginations around the world. This episode explores the creation of the Salton Sea; the effort to preserve Joshua Tree National Park; and how commercial interests created desert utopias like Palm Springs.
This episode explores how surfers, bodybuilders, and acrobats taught Californians how to have fun and stay young at the beach — and how the 1966 documentary The Endless Summer shared the Southern California idea of the beach with the rest of the world.