As the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of Disneyland have made clear, we would not be the same without Mickey Mouse, Space Mountain and all the other wonderful creations of Walt Disney.
One Orange County Register newspaper feature last week referred to Disney’s “Big Bet,” emphasizing the risky nature of banking his company’s future on a $17 million theme park that was like nothing else at the time. Walt Disney had to sell the idea to investors, convince them of his vision.
The beauty of Disneyland is the notion that one man could create something out of nothing, pursuing an idea in his own way. Disneyland epitomizes the concept of individualism and entrepreneurship. This clearly was not the creation of a committee.
The only sobering thought on this anniversary: To what degree would Walt succeed today? Other visionaries in our midst must fight for years as government agencies and organized environmentalist and other NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) groups try to stop, limit or change what they do not like or understand.
There is a huge difference between a project that gets built, finally, after decades of battles, compromises, legal fees and after everyone’s crazy aunt has input into the final design, and one that closely tracks the vision of the entrepreneur.
As Americans live in a more tightly regulated world, we fear that the sort of spirit that made Disneyland possible in the 1950s would be crushed today.
Sure, projects still get built, but do they reflect visionary dreams or bureaucratic preferences? Sure, progress is made, but do quirky and risky ideas — even ones that go against conventional wisdom — come to fruition? Will everything become more bland as the planning process and the land-use rules and the government decision-makers crush creativity?
We still think there’s room for creativity and entrepreneurship, but it’s worth remembering those questions so that the spirit that created Disneyland can still create projects that are equally as meaningful for future generations.