Married to the Mouse

Richard E. Foglesong, a professor of politics at Rollins College, explores the promise and perils of urban planning and economic development in Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando. He analyzes the history of the intimate, and at times tempestuous, partnership of Orlando, Florida, and Walt Disney World, a relationship that he likens to the mutual interdependence of a marriage.

Throughout American history few communities have resisted the blandishments of “growth.” In a society rapidly evolving from a frontier, the swiftness of change was a sign of life and health. The arrival of a major industry, bringing with it cash, jobs and taxable property was something to be celebrated. Foglesong does not intend to debunk the American municipal dream. He does, however, remind readers that expansion can come at a price.

A small group of prominent citizens in Orlando shared the goal of building a bigger and more bountiful future for their city. Shrewdly, they laid the foundation for growth by effectively lobbying the state for more roads, including an Interstate Highway running right through town. This road net, along with a mild climate and inexpensively available land attracted Walt Disney to the Orlando area. Local and state political leaders were delighted by the prospect of a huge theme park in their back yard, and made the fateful decision to give the Disney Corporation governmental authority over its property, making Disney a force independent of county officials. The opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 spurred the expected economic boom. The local population has doubled, and hotel rooms have expanded from 8000 to 100,000. But there has been a downside. Most of the jobs Disney has created are low income. Housing and social service needs have strained local budgets, while Disney’s autonomy frustrates political efforts to raise more revenue. Foglesong’s account of the ongoing efforts of a city and corporation to live together offers insight to anyone interested in urban development.