Theme Parks: A Model for Urban Planning?

Disney1In honor of National Public Works Week (yes, this is a real thing), I wanted to share an interesting article that relates theme parks to public works.

I have never really thought of theme parks and public works in the same context, but Rollins College, a liberal arts school in Winter Park, Fla., offers students a week-long course to explore various Disney properties to learn how these heavily trafficked destinations – with tens of millions of visitors every year – are designed.

Surprisingly, Disney World and other nearby Disney projects are an intriguing, if overtly contrived, case study in urban planning. The college points out that the Magic Kingdom has public transportation (monorail), a public center (Cinderella’s Castle), a Main Street with shopping, entertainment and restaurants, and a bustling economy with many job opportunities.

Disney2This course identifies the potential opportunity to learn real-life public works lessons by studying theme parks. Disney World probably handles more vehicular and pedestrian traffic than many cities in the U.S.

What similarities and differences do you see in the way Disney World is planned compared to your city?


  1. Rod Sommer says:

    This post made me realize that many large airports are evolving using the same design characteristics — public transport, shopping, restaurants, gathering spaces, etc.

  2. Megan Miller says:

    Have you noticed that we are much more willing to walk to the point of exhaustion at a place like Disney World than we are in our own neighborhoods and cities?

    • Andrea Pakulski says:

      Good point!

    • Patrick Sage says:

      Megan, we need to continue to evaluate how that sort of neighborhood design works in our 21st century lifestyle, particularly in the midwest. Many communities exist even outside of major metropolitan areas where such walkability is a daily experience…Diane and I lived in a neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Rochester NY (not unlike Dayton in many ways) where we would park our car for the weekend and still meet all our needs in the neighborhood by walking or biking. It is interesting how parking and walking at theme parks or places like the Greene is acceptable (desired?) but in other contexts is a negative. Obviously existing land use and perceived safety issues play a big role in that perspective. Creative urban and transportation design are critical to addressing that stigma. The Brown Street corridor is on the right path I think.

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