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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The city as theme park and the theme park as city: amusement space, urban form, and cultural change Warren, Stacy


Amusement space embodies hegemonic and Utopian dialogue concerning urban conditions. Throughout the twentieth century, two rival urban visions have reigned: the Coney Island model, a chancy, participatory theatre where patrons can confront head-on current conditions; and the Disney model, a carefully planned setting where guests are made to feel comfortable and secure. The current ascendancy of the Disney model, evident in urban and suburban landscapes increasingly shaped in the Disney image, has attracted the attention -- and alarm --of critics who interpret this trend as urban planning with a 'sinister twist.' A case study of Disney's involvement with Seattle Center, originally the site of the 1962 World's Fair and now Seattle's premier urban park, demonstrates, however, that people actively challenge, negotiate, and reform the Disney model to meet their needs by infusing the space with traces of the rival Coney model. The suggestions Disney made for renovation of Seattle Center sparked a city-wide debate that centred on the roles of local participation, cultural sensitivity, and aesthetic design in urban space; Disney was found lacking on all accounts and eventually rejected entirely. Seattle's experience with Disney demonstrates that amusement space offers a rich terrain upon which people can dream about, and implement, urban change.

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