The Great Work of Disney Imagineers at Disney Springs: Every zoning board in America should pay attention to the good work there

One of the things I was most curious about, regarding the Disney Springs renovation from what used to be called Downtown Disney, to its present form, was why the Imagineers felt they had to create a fictional back-story about what is essentially a shopping and entertainment destination. I have always loved Downtown Disney and when Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012 I had a strong feeling they would do good things with the Indiana Jones property and was excited to see what it might be. I was a little surprised that the creation of Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar was one of their first projects so upon landing in Florida during a recent vacation it was the very first place I went. I couldn’t wait to get there as I had been watching the re-construction of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs for much of the last decade and I had to see, smell and touch everything.

My point of reference for these kinds of places is Atlantis from the great book Atlas Shrugged, the kind of world that if human creativity was left alone to do its thing, what kind of great things could we make. The closest I can think of anywhere in the world is the Disney managed properties of Disney World, for which Disney Springs is a part. I don’t care that things are so enormously expensive there, because like the book Atlas Shrugged, the value for money and any other currency is in the product themselves. Disney sells happiness, and if you have enough money, you can buy some. Their Imagineers are happy to give you happiness, so if you can afford it, you can purchase for yourself. But its not free. So using that as my guide, I was delighted to visit the place and compare it to other places around the country that I admire, particularly a shopping complex in my hometown called Liberty Center which I love quite a lot.

But what mystified me, even as a person who understands the importance of mythology in everything, is that Disney created this fake backstory about Disney Springs and even Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar and that as guests we were supposed to accept it in the same way we might accept some reality from the theme parks they are so known for. In fact, just about every new hotel and construction experience on the Disney property in Florida these days has some kind of made-up backstory which I found perplexing until I visited the place for myself. Even watching the construction updates from a distance for several years really couldn’t bring context to the effort until you physically visited a place like that.

Upon seeing the creation of the springs at Disney Springs I understood immediately what the Imagineers were going for, its what I would call a “conceptual faculty,” the ability to see an abstract concept in your mind so that you can bring it forth into a reality. By creating all these back stories for stores and restaurants at Disney Springs the designers were able to use mythology to elevate the construction and its psychological impact on the consumers. Normally it would be up to the companies who become tenants at such a place to set the tone of a project, but in this case the backstory of the concept allowed all participants to align the scope of the project to a unified vision, and it was pulled off brilliantly. For me it was quite a magical moment to spend the afternoon in Jock Lindsey’s looking at all the relics from his past in chasing Indiana Jones all over the world and to stroll a few short steps from that front door to the fantastic springs of Disney Springs with all the commercial activity situated around it.

The thing that struck me most about Disney Springs is that in no way in the world would any zoning board trained at today’s colleges approve such a plan and allow an entertainment district like Disney Springs to be built along the many natural springs that are found all over Florida. The political bureaucracy would be mind bending dull and laborious. It just wouldn’t happen. So to sidestep that little problem, Disney Imagineers just created their own lakes and springs so that commercial development could take place around it, and the result would be spectacularly beautiful. The result as I could see it was essentially John Galt’s Atlantis where great creations from great people were on full display without the imprint of local and state governments regulating fun beyond recognition. That is largely because Disney controls what happens on their property to the most extent that any modern company could. I don’t think it would be possible to build something like a Disney Springs off the Disney controlled property due to local regulations picking it apart until there was nothing left.

Even at Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars land which I will be talking about alot, the backstory that was created for it as a project gave the Imagineers something to build to, a way to conceptualize the project and overcome whatever problems came before it. Such a method of approaching a construction project had really improved Disney Springs since my last visit and the overall approach of the entire network of theme parks. This point hit me hard while traveling on the new Skyliner system of gondolas that are now connecting Hollywood Studios with the Epcot Center. Many of the hotel complexes that had been created recently along that gondola path all had similar backstories as were used to create Disney Springs and the elevated mythology had propelled the scope of the projects to a much higher level than would have otherwise been achieved using traditional building methods at the development stage. This ability Disney has been using with its Imagineering department to help guide all their construction departments had yielded results in the final presentation they wouldn’t have achieved any other way.

To that effect I was greatly impressed by the work at Disney Springs. I would say that the complex alone would deserve its own vacation destination, but for me it was only one very small part of my trip experience into enjoying the fantastic work of the Disney Imagineers. Locals obviously were taking the place for granted, but it was clear to me that what was happening there was very unique. It would be great to see other places utilize the same methods to push up their own projects to such bold levels. Like John Galt’s Atlantis the mind of mankind has shown time and time again that it can do better than nature, and if nature is in the way, that we can simply build over it and do a much better job. As a company I’m sure Disney wants to appease the climate activists, but clearly as an organization their ability to put story before sentiment has helped their creative people in the Imagineering department do things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. The results are obvious and very exciting. Even if I was a little skeptical, it quickly became clear that this approach was something everyone should be doing, and it was a wave of the future that was not so obvious except in seeing the results firsthand.

Rich Hoffman