Americans love amusement parks. New ones are coming, from Wayne’s World in the Florida Everglades to Trump Park in Connecticut. Just how much of natural world should we trade for fantasylands?
The story of theme parks and the environment may best be told at EPCOT Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. In the early 80s, the construction crews hit the swamps — clearcutting pine trees and palmettos, removing alligators and rattlesnakes, landfilling sinkholes a digging a 100-acre lake — to build the Future World pavilions that now draw millions of visitors a year. All of the exhibits at EPCOT share a theme, notes Judith Adams in her book, The American Amusement Park Industry: The Triumph of Technology. "There is no pollution or acid rain in "The Universe of Energy,"" she finds, "no famines, dust storms, droughts, or even natural dirt in "The Land"; no gridlock, smog or highway carnage in the "World of Motion."" Greenpeace will have to build its own theme park to remind us of the lost alligators and wetlands that did not belong in Disney’s idyllic Future World.
E Magazine examines three new theme parks in the works, all very different and yet all revealing our desire for fantasy entertainment rather than the natural environment. In Opryland in Nashville, you can walk indoor wilderness trails modeled after those right outside. "We can have nature on our own terms," say Maria-Lydia Spinelli, an anthropologist for DePaul University. "We can direct what we want it to be like."
The United States has upwards of 300 amusement parks, raking in $4 billion a year from 90 million visitors. The fantasyland entertainment now extends to the country’s 1,800 malls, following the example of the Mall of America outside Minneapolis, which features an indoor "park" with roller coaster, ferris wheel, tropical jasmine and orange trees, Buddhist pines and black olives that don’t quite match the press kit’s promise of "the awesome splendor of the Minnesota woods."