Though Disney wouldn’t live to see it, he was granted his Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is still “governed” by a supervisory board “elected” by the landowners—i.e., the Walt Disney Company. As described by a former head executive, Reedy Creek “gave us all the powers of the two counties in which we sit to the exclusion of their exercising any powers, and of course it let us issue bonds. We could do anything the city or county could do. The only powers that still reside on us from outside are the taxing power of Orange County, the sales tax of the state, and the inspection of elevators.”
Reedy Creek handles its own planning and zoning. It lays out roads and sewer lines, licenses the sale of alcoholic beverages. Building codes? Psh, Reedy Creek employs the building inspectors. It employs its own fire department. Contracts its own eight-hundred-member security force. Technically, it is within Disney’s rights to build an airport and a nuclear power plant within the Improvement District, if Disney so desires.
But that about the whole utopian city thing? The enticement that ultimately sealed the deal for the people of Florida? It was all a ruse. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was just another theme park. And though more than fifty-five thousand people work in the Reedy Creek Improvement District by day; and though more than a hundred thousand patronize its stand-alone restaurants, clubs, and theaters every night—Reedy Creek retains a permanent population of about fifty. Most of whom are company executives or their family members.
Walt Disney demanded and received the powers of a democratically elected government, and his corporation ducked the botheration of, you know, constituents. Constituents who might challenge Disney’s top-down plans or even vote them out of power. The constitutionality of this arrangement has never been challenged. I suppose this proves no one minds the arrangement all that much. But I tend to think otherwise. I think it proves that the people of Florida are no different from patsies across time and space: too ashamed to admit when we’ve been had.
“By turning the state of Florida and its statutes into their enablers,” T. D. Allman writes, “Disney and his successors pioneered a business model based on public subsidy of private profit coupled with corporate immunity from the laws, regulations, and taxes imposed on people that now increasingly characterizes the economy of the United States.”
So, huh. I guess Disney did get his “showcase for free enterprise” and his utopia both, in the end.
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