Disney's grand vision of the 21st Century is a reminder of the world that can still await us

The 21st century began on Jan. 1, 2001, but for Disney fans it had been in full swing for more than 18 years, since the opening day of EPCOT Center on Oct. 1, 1982, when a sleek and optimistic vision of the future debuted in a theme park unlike any other built before or since.

Late last year, Disney started a massive overhaul of EPCOT, which will see more Disney characters and brands added to the park, and update many of its attractions for the actual 21st century – which has arguably proved a fair deal bleaker and less promising than the happy visions Disney conceived for EPCOT.

Disney's version contained daily flights to space, boundless energy, harmony with the earth and its oceans, pollution-free transportation, and a unifying message of peace and unity among people from every nation. The future didn't quite turn out that way.





But even back in 1982, it was something of a fiction. Grounded in the harsh reality of the time, it was a quintessential Disney wish that got its start in the 1950s, as Walt Disney was readying Disneyland. Even the most devoted Disney enthusiast rarely sees past the rides, shows, restaurants and shops when they go to Disneyland, but Walt Disney and his engineers (long before they were "Imagineers") saw something far different: urban planning. So impressive was Disney's ability to make something out of nothing that James Rouse, designer of the first enclosed shopping center in America said in 1963, "the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland."

An avid traveler, Walt Disney had also spent much time visiting cities around the world – and around the country – and by the early 1960s he was growing concerned about the state of American cities, but eager to explore solutions he saw internationally. His interest became an obsession, and by the mid-1960s he was wholeheartedly turning his company from a film studio into a think-tank devoted to creating a prototype community filled with experimental technology from around the world.

He called the city EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. To help fund it, and to draw even more attention to it, he placed it within the confines of "Disney World," the gigantic project his company was building in Central Florida. Building the theme park proved relatively easy; but when it come to the "city of tomorrow," even his closest aides were confounded by the visions and ideas Walt Disney had proposed. "He had come to fear that EPCOT would not be built if anything happened to him," biographer Neil Gabler wrote in Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination. On Dec. 15, 1966, Walt Disney died.



So, for a time, EPCOT died. Its vision of a future created by corporations and big industries, supported by governments and social unity, was undone by the violence, unrest and distrust of the 1960s. Yet, a decade after Walt Disney died, EPCOT began moving ahead.

The idea of a "real" city that housed research-and-development arms of major corporations, staffed by people from around the world, fell away quickly, but at EPCOT's core was the belief that the ideas and innovations of companies, and the imagination of the people who worked for them around the globe, could serve to inspire the future. These two competing notions of technological innovation and of cultural cooperation were initially proposed as two parks, until, inspiration struck.

"We found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both," remembered Marty Sklar, who went on to head Walt Disney Imagineering, "so we pushed the two of them together, basically, and that became EPCOT Center." The building, transportation and management codes that had been created for development of the city formed the backbone of the entire Walt Disney World resort development, so the 43-square-mile complex became known as "EPCOT," while the theme park would be at its geographical heart – it would be, literally, the EPCOT Center.

Those two sections that were initially separate parks were joined and became Future World and World Showcase. A massive marketing campaign supported what was then the single largest construction project in the world – no small feat, considering a global recession that gripped the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As a company, Disney was undaunted. "EPCOT Center is a celebration of ingenuity, innovation, imagination … and most of all … hope for the future," the company wrote in its 1982 annual report. "We believe we need optimism in our world because a society just can't progress without the belief that life will be good, that individual enterprise will bring its own rewards and that the great nations of the world will be guided on the right course with a better informed public." Disney called EPCOT "the dawn of a new Disney era."

Instead of single rides, massive pavilions contained long, elaborate attractions that explored key concepts vital to the future: communication (in Spaceship Earth), energy (Universe of Energy), the environment (The Land), transportation (World of Motion), imagination (Journey Into Imagination) and, after EPCOT's first expansion, the oceans (The Living Seas) and future technology (Horizons). The Wonders of Life added a look at the human body, completing Future World in 1989.



World Showcase opened with nine countries – Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States – with Morocco joining in 1984 and Norway in 1988. Country pavilions were initially sponsored by private companies, except Morocco, which has always been sponsored by its government. Curious what EPCOT looked like in 1982? Here's a carefully restored 16 mm film taken not long after opening.

The hopeful vision of the future presented by EPCOT officially became outmoded when the 21st century really did dawn. An enormous overhaul of EPCOT was announced last summer, but construction has been stalled by the outbreak of coronavirus – an outbreak that may best be solved by cooperation among people, innovation led by private industry, and an understanding that our future is shared by everyone. One of humanity's greatest crises may find its ultimate solution in the ideas, spirit and innovation that Walt Disney left behind, and that led to a theme park – and a vision – unlike any other.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."