We have a government busy moving pieces around the telecommunications game board. Where are our national plans for an EPCOT 2014, our New Songdo City? I guess they're on the shelf, next to our national alternative energy strategy - in the TBD section.
Unless you are a hard-core Disney buff like me, you probably don't know much about the origins of Disney World and the whole philosophy that Walt Disney was trying to bring to urban design. Disney's original Disneyland had a utilitarian role of providing a place where people could go and enjoy themselves when visiting his California studio. He loved the idea that you could take a physical space and transform it into something - such as an amusement park that shut out the real world - just as you could put a person in a darkened room and show a movie that transported him to a far-off land.
Disney became fascinated with the idea of building "spaces" and making people's lives less chaotic than they were. He loved World Fairs because of the future change they foretold. He lobbied to be a part of this by getting corporate sponsorships to show his vision. The Carousel of Progress ride at Disney World first appeared in the 1964 World Fair, where it was the GE-sponsored pavilion. The theme song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," talked about how technology was going to change our lives.
But it was not just about technology for Disney - it was about reinventing society. He was a passionate urban engineer, and his first big foray into urban redesign was to be a city called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). EPCOT would be a perfect city, with dependable public transportation, underground utility access tunnels, a huge soaring civic center covered by an all-weather dome and model factory environments that would be concealed in green belts of grass and trees. Everything would be readily accessible to workers housed in idyllic suburban subdivisions nearby.
He was willing to put his money where his mind was. Disney was actually going to build a city of the future from the ground up. He purchased thousands of acres in central Florida for an "East Coast Disneyland," Walt Disney World. He made a film showcasing this new city . Plans, models - everything was prepped and ready when Disney died in late 1966. EPCOT, where more than 20,000 people would live in a perfect city of tomorrow and model for urban change, died with him. Lacking Disney's passion, Disneyland East became another amusement park.
Fast forward to 2005 Korea. Korea is building its own city of tomorrow, New Songdo City , where everything is similarly designed in a utopian, centrally planned fashion. All major information systems share data, trash cans speak RFID and the baseline for communications is a high-definition videophone. More than 65,000 people will live and 300,000 people will work in this technological and social utopia of the future, dubbed a "ubiquitous city" or U-City for short. Expected to be complete in 2014, it's probably the largest urban development in the world, and the largest test bed for technology. It is supported by the government and built on top of a national broadband infrastructure that also is supported by the government. B. J. Fogg, the director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, says, "New Songdo sounds like it will be one big Petri dish for understanding how people want to use technology."
You have to give Korea credit for living the vision. It's doing what everyone else talks about: pushing the edges of technology's impact on society by building a society around technology. Imagine having an arena in which to design, test and then adopt such productivity and socially promoting capabilities.
A lot of these new-fangled ideas originate in the U.S., but there's no Petri dish for us to exploit, no regulation-free zone for experimenting on the masses of society. We need our own 2005 EPCOT where we can reassert our technology leadership and vision. We need a Walt Disney.
Instead, we have a government busy moving pieces around the telecommunications game board. Where are our national plans for an EPCOT 2014, our New Songdo City? I guess they're on the shelf, next to our national alternative energy strategy - in the TBD section.
Briere is CEO of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecom industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.