AUTHOR’S NOTE: While I normally shun writing in the first person … despite enjoying it immensely … and finding it substantially easier and quicker to write that way, I have written this article largely in the first person because it is as much a personal story of my introduction into the realm of sustainable development as it is about the events that would shape my future plans for entire Community Developments.
There was a rather large and diverse group of people (including the author) who laughed when some “fool” began purchasing all of the available swampland around Kissimmee, Florida back in the nineteen sixties. These days, one would be hard pressed to call Walt Disney a fool in any sense of the word … although there are still many personal grudges going back to the days when Eisner went from being in charge of Food and Beverage to being in control of the theme park, but that is more personal in nature and not really relevant to the overall issue being addressed herein.
When this individual made known their plans to build a massive theme park in the middle of the swamps, skepticism among the locals was … prevalent … to put it nicely. Much of the surrounding land was at or below sea level, prone to flooding and certainly seemed more well-suited for the cattle grazing that was going on than it did for the establishment of any kind of commercial development … much less for the creation of a global theme park attraction. My math tutor when I was a very young man, was one of the people who would ultimately become one of the chief design engineers for Corporate Disney. However, my personal introduction to the mouse only goes back to some time in the early nineteen seventies.
In the early nineteen seventies, Disney World, outside of Kissimmee (as it was never in or even really that close to Orlando, despite popular misconceptions) was already a booming theme park with an overwhelming impact on global tourism. At the time, Disney Land in California would fit in the parking lot of Disney World, and there would still be room for over one thousand cars in the parking lot.
This was all for a single theme park mind you, long before the days of Epcot … back when it was still … ironically perhaps, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, much less the host of related theme parks and commercial centers in the Disney territories of today. This in itself was certainly no minor accomplishment. To have achieved all of this in the middle of a swamp was even more impressive. However, despite all of the amazing feats accomplished by Disney in the construction of the world of the mouse, I am going to focus on some of the more unique, engineering accomplishments that I have attempted to integrate, to a different degree, into the Sustainable Community Developments.
This article will focus on the engineering that created the underground Kingdom of Disney that they would go on to hide from the general public.
When I first entered the realm of the mouse, there were three fully incorporated cities. All of them had their own police departments, fire departments and even mayors. Again, this is nothing particularly spectacular with only that limited view. What was amazing though, was the fact that this was the underground empire of Disney World. Not some shadowy, conspiratorial and proverbial underground mind you, but the an actual empire being built completely underground … in the Florida swamps.
For those that are not more inclined to traditional STEM thinking, building underground already has a great many unique challenges, but doing so in the swamp is … challenging, if not impossible on the best of days. The engineering solutions that were developed for the construction of Walt Disney World were truly amazing however. (No, I have never had the opportunity to study them in detail, and only know what I know from what I observed during my personal interactions with the mouse in his world)
Any efforts to construct this underground empire in the Florida swamps would have required massive excavation … which it did. What made the solutions ingenious were that the excavations were done only to the extent necessary … to remove a sufficient amount of earth to cover up the remaining exposed portions of the construction. In short, most of the underground complex was actually only built about halfway underground and then covered up with the remnants of the earth that had been moved to allow for the construction. A sufficient layer was allowed for in order to plant trees and to build a theme park on the new, higher ground level … that would also no longer be prone to flooding and other normal hazards associated with living in the swamps.
And thus, an entire underground empire was born, though not even technically all underground1. Over the top of this underground empire, Walt Disney would go on to develop what could easily be argued to be the premier tourist destination in the entire world. But how is that in any way related to sustainable development by the standards of today?
The principles for underground development utilizing the same methods as did Disney, are not only sound, even in the engineering realm today, but the concept of building underground with the thought of future development above ground is imperative to the future of truly sustainable developments. However, rather than focusing on the development of even more construction above ground, the focus needs to shift to the concept of the introduction of natural, albeit man-made, sustainable environmental development.
This portion of the sustainable development would include food forests, “kitchen gardens” and other complete ecosystems that assist in the provision of goods for the human inhabitants, while at the same time establishing a natural environmental growth and development that assists in the overall environmental health of the planet itself. Water purification facilities, housing, agricultural facilities, portions of research and development and other laboratories and some limited numbers of roads and other developments would be established above ground, but by and large, the overall community would be built underground.
As was previously noted however, it would not be necessary to excavate the entire underground areas to be developed. This is important as it relates directly to the potential for disruption to environmentally sensitive areas above ground and the overall sustainability of these projects … in addition to their viability in other sensitive areas that may have, by necessity or design, other restrictions in place. Once the underground was established, construction could continue unabated and without any major disruptions to the areas above ground.
Those areas that were constructed above ground, would not necessarily need to be completely “buried” in order to allow for an environmentally sustainable development on the surface. For some uses, less than ten centimeters of soil is needed to create a fully habitable ecosystem for the local wildlife … both plant and animal. However, ideally, such a system would allow for the placement of at least a meter and preferably more than three meters of viable top soil over top of the underground developments. In such a system, large-scale environmental development and entire ecosystems could be easily established and maintained.
Given the standards of the day, it is not yet viable to create an entire community underground wherein people would spend their entire life, though such a concept may not be quite as outrageous in the near-distant future. Even then, it is understood that some people would be more inclined than others to live in such an environment, and that some would reject it altogether. Such is to be expected any time that large numbers of individuals are introduced to any relatively new concepts and/or designs.
Further efforts need to continue to focus on the growth and production of large-scale crops in more limited spaces. The growth of plants and production of Vitamin D are also severely hampered in underground developments and, for the purposes of the continuation of life, this issue also needs to be addressed. Many of the same concerns about living in an isolated environment in space will be equally as true when vast tracts of housing and indeed, entire lives are moved into the underground.
The introduction of underground development at this stage is not so much a final concept of sustainability as it is the introduction of a new paradigm and a new system of thinking that will lead to much broader and more encompassing solutions in the future. For the time being however, how can one improve their environmental (or carbon if you insist) footprint, when there is not one in existence? If you only scratch the surface when seeking solutions, it is not unreasonable to believe that you will discover naught more than dirt under your fingernails.
However, if you are willing to dig deep enough into the solutions, you may actually be able to find a diamond in the rough and maybe together, we can polish it up and provide long-term, realistic, meaningful and effective solutions?
1While some people consider the concept of underground military bases to be part of the realm of conspiracy theories, in accordance with data compiled from Jane’s Defense Weekly and based on educated guesses from engineers intimately familiar with underground engineering, design and construction, it is estimated that more than one hundred thousand people are currently employed and/or living in underground environments within the US, all courtesy of the American government and the taxpayer.