The 50-Year Evolution of Walt Disney World in Maps
In the early 1960s, Walt Disney was riding high on the success of Disneyland in California.
Disneyland had a problem though. Only a small fraction of its guests were from the East Coast of the U.S., which meant Disney was missing out on a huge potential audience for his theme park. To expand the company’s reach and scope, he began looking for a location that would match his grand ambitions, and Florida, with its abundance of cheap land and warm climate was a natural choice.
On November 22, 1963—coincidentally the day JFK was assassinated—Walt flew over to the Orlando to do some location scouting. At the time, most of the area was swampland, though there was one area adjacent to an under-construction highway that caught his attention.
Using shell companies to preserve his anonymity (and to keep the price down), Disney began acquiring the sprawling properties that would become today’s Walt Disney World (WDW).
Walt Disney World: The First Iteration
When Walt Disney World finally opened in 1971, it included the main Magic Kingdom site, as well as two golf courses and two hotels—Contemporary Resort and the Polynesian Village Resort. These areas were all connected by a monorail system.
As these maps depict, there was a plan to develop three unique themed zones around the Seven Seas Lagoon: Persian, Asian, and Venetian.
However, these projects were scrapped after the 1973 oil crisis as tourism declined.
The original master plan for Walt Disney World did not include plans for the Seven Seas Lagoon, and it was likely added so that the displaced earth could be used to fortify swampy sections of the property to make them suitable for building.
The first major Disney World expansion was Epcot Center, which opened in 1982. The site, which was twice as big as the Magic Kingdom, is best described as a permanent world’s fair.
The park was anchored by Future World and “Spaceship Earth”, the iconic geodesic sphere structure that sat at the entrance of the park.
Surrounding the nearby lake were pavilions themed after various locations in the world.
Though the scope of Epcot was impressive at the time, it was still vastly scaled down from Walt Disney’s original vision for a fully functioning “city of the future”. Ultimately, the company was uncertain about the feasibility of operating a functional city, so the idea was scrapped in favor of the current iteration.
Hollywood Comes to Florida
Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, in a location just south of Epcot. The park featured “imagined worlds from film, television, music, and theater, drawing inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood”.
To make this happen, Disney entered into a licensing agreement with MGM to help increase the variety of film representation within the park.
Approximately 11 million visitors pass through Hollywood Studios every year.
Animal Kingdom and Rapid Expansion
In 1998, WDW added a fourth theme park called Animal Kingdom. It’s the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and combines elements of both a zoo and theme park.
A central feature of Animal Kingdom is the massive Tree of Life. The 145 foot tall work of art contains 325 unique animal carvings and over 100,000 artificial leaves. The park itself features about 2,000 animals representing 300 species.
Around 13 million people visit the theme park each year.
Walt Disney World Today
So, how big is Walt Disney World today? 43 square miles, which is about the same area as San Francisco and and twice the size of Manhattan.
The scale of today’s WDW has fully eclipsed the original version of the site. The resort, which featured two hotels in 1971, now has more than 20, with 30,000 hotel rooms. WDW is also the largest single site employer in the United States.
Looking at the map above, one might wonder whether this sprawling entertainment empire is bursting at the seams. Will WDW eventually build over its entire property? The answer is somewhat complicated.
What’s Missing from Walt Disney World Maps?
While the stylized maps above do a great job of highlighting WDW’s many attractions, they generally downplay an important fact. Much of the land owned by Disney is still undeveloped, and there is a lot of space between the various parks. Much of this space is earmarked as conservation areas, and only some of the remaining land is actually suitable for development. Despite the sheer size of the property occupied by WDW, space for expansion grows increasingly scarce with each new development.
The stylized maps also downplay the size of WDW’s parking lots, which are extensive. The Magic Kingdom parking lot, for example, is actually larger than the theme park itself.
The giant map below is an accurate representation of the park’s layout, and includes facts on some of the attributes of the park.
This enormous land parcel is also unique in that it’s a kind of self-governing municipality, with its own fire department and emergency services. The district—officially known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District—is governed by a five-person Board of Supervisors elected by the landowners in the district. As a result, high-level Disney employees essentially run the entire region encompassing WDW.
In the 50 years since the Magic Kingdom first opened its turnstiles, Disney’s own kingdom in Central Florida has transformed dramatically. With Disney’s continued financial success and the freedom to make large-scale moves within their property, the next 50 years will no doubt bring more dramatic changes to the world’s biggest theme park.
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.
Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.
Defining Human Impact
Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:
- Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
- Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
- Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
- Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
- Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
- Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
- Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
- Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
- Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
- Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution
The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.
A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.
Land Use Contrasts: Egypt
Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.
The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.
Intensive Modification: Netherlands
The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.
The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.
Resource Extraction: West Virginia
It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.
The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.
You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?
Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity
Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.
Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity
Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.
Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.
After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.
The Fight to Feed the World
The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.
On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.
The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.
But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.
|Country||% Population Affected by Hunger||Population (millions)||Region|
|Burkina Faso 🇧🇫||61%||19.8||Africa|
|South Sudan 🇸🇸||60%||11.0||Africa|
|Sierra Leone 🇸🇱||55%||8.2||Africa|
|Syria 🇸🇾||55%||18.0||Middle East|
|Yemen 🇾🇪||44%||30.0||Middle East|
Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.
Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.
According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.
All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Solving Global Hunger
While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.
Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.
But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.
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