What Navigating Disney World Can Teach Us About Our Cities

Why must the “frictionless” ease of the Magic Kingdom remain a fantasy?

This spring, we’re celebrating innovators who are tackling pressing global issues. We call them the GOOD 100. In the spirit of solidarity, we’re also rolling out insights and personal stories from a select list of influential global citizens working in alliance with the world at large. We’ll be highlighting GOOD Citizens once a week.

"It's on America's tortured brow that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow." That line from David Bowie's "Life on Mars" kept banging around in my head while I traipsed through the Magic Kingdom with my kids last week. Bowie probably meant something about sacred cows, but I won't profess to know. For me, something about cattle and Disney World made sense as I strolled around in what felt like a Temple Grandin masterpiece. The park had managed to combine crowded bovine passivity with ease of movement, evocative of animal scientist Grandin’s work to design corrals that reduced stress and panic in animals on their way to slaughter.

Okay, so that’s a little bit of a dark take on what I see as a caricature of good urban design. But truly, it’s something to behold. The Kingdom’s park design positions Cinderella’s castle as the center, or hub, with paths/spokes radiating in all directions to Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and other worlds. That geographic array is matched with line-skipping consumption technology called the “Magic Band” (read: credit card bracelet) and combines to make distances feel short, navigation instinctive, and transactions seamless. Frictionless.

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