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How this moment in history could allow Walt Disney’s greatest dream to come true

With the world shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, this might be our best chance yet to create Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

The novel coronavirus might be costing the company that bears his name an unimaginable amount of money, but this pandemic also provides us with a unique opportunity to make Walt Disney’s greatest dream come true.

Disney’s losses surely have run deep, with theme parks and movie theaters closed around the world and no new sporting events to keep people watching the Disney-owned ESPN sports channels.

The result has been devastating to the economy, with millions of families wondering how they will get through the crisis. But many of us, while acknowledging the pain many are experiencing and sacrifice many are making, have found moments to cherish, too. We are no longer wasting hours every day in traffic. The air over the Los Angeles Metro area is cleaner. Parents are spending more time with their children and children with their parents.

Some of us are beginning to ask, are there ways that we can keep the benefits of this forced shutdown when it’s time to go back to work? While our communities are in the shop to fix this whole COVID thing, can we work on fixing some other problems, as well?

We could. But those who made bank under the old ways will fight every attempt at change. They will drive media coverage and whip up protests to convince us that we have to go back to the old ways — right now — and cannot possibly afford to even think about anything different.

But opportunity lies in every moment of adversity, and I can’t help but think that Walt would have seen an amazing one hiding within this moment. With the world shut down, this might be our best chance yet to create Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Near the end of his life, Walt turned his attention toward Orlando and the project that would become the Walt Disney World Resort. But to Walt, this Florida project wasn’t just a collection of theme parks and hotels. It was to be that “community of tomorrow,” a city designed from the ground up by Disney’s Imagineers to provide housing, work, entertainment and transportation in ways that would become a model for communities around the world.

After Walt’s death, the company abandoned his plans for a modernist’s dream city and instead just built a theme park and a couple of hotels. A decade later, the company recycled the EPCOT concept as another theme park, a kind of permanent world’s fair.

Even though his dream city never happened, Walt did get one thing right about EPCOT. If you want to create a new model for something, it really helps to build it from scratch. People, businesses and community institutions rarely embrace change until they see no other choice.

It’s possible that COVID-19 has presented us just such a moment, when we had no choice but to change our ways.

Like Walt, I believe that we can do better. We can build a better community and we owe it ourselves and our neighbors to try. As the most famous line from an attraction at EPCOT — the theme park – once said, “If we can dream it, we can do it.”