Disney theme parks can be instructive for us when it comes to designing and managing city precincts for the enjoyment of visitors. Disney simultaneously offers both good and bad examples of what to do – and not do. An interview in Smart Planet with Jennifer Gray, an historian of modern art and architecture, provided many interesting perspectives, and provoked some heated reactions in the comments from readers.
Gray says, “In recent years Disney-urbanism has colonized authentic cities. Urban entertainment districts such as South Street Seaport in New York, Quincy Market in Baltimore, and Harbor Place in Baltimore are good examples. South Street Seaport conveys the impression of a once-active seafaring culture, but without the messiness of a functioning seaport – the smell of fish, working-class dockhands, clamoring fish mongers. Instead we find national retail and restaurant chains like The Gap and McDonald’s.” But having lived in New York, I know that South Street Seaport is for the tourists, because as locals we know that it has lost its authenticity and is a ‘Disneyfied’ experience.
Whenever I visit a Disney theme park with my family, it doesn’t take long for me to be in trouble because I am slowing everyone down. I am easily distracted observing the streetscapes, public spaces, architecture, trash bins, garden maintenance, crowd calming techniques, and even the trash collectors on roller-blades (they add to the sense of fun and can cover more territory!).
There are many aspects of Ms. Gray’s interview that I disagree with, however I always value fresh perspectives on the work of Disney because no other individual has had a greater impact on managing visitor experiences - whether we like all of his work or not.