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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

Reimaging Theme Parks- Part 1

When I was a young intern architect working with WED, Walt Disney’s design and construction arm, I built models of Cal Art’s campus, Walt’s personal vision of higher education’s future. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times as he stooped to eye-level of my models. He was a true world entertainment visionary then, today and forever. And Disneyland was his greatest accomplishment.

Disneyland was not the first theme park. Circuses, carnivals and fairs entertained crowds for a thousand years. The first American theme park was Compounce, Connecticut, 1846. Theme parks evolved to draw people to events or lackluster locations, such as Anaheim or Orlando, two less desirable communities at the time.

This pandemic has taken its toll on all gathering functions. In 2019, the world theme park attendance was over 200 million. 2020, it might reach 20 million. Many parks will probably close forever.

But the future may be on our horizon. Linda Hung, VP at Forrec Theme Park Designs, is reimagining how entertainment parks will survive in the brave New World. Clearly, theme parks must adapt to not only social distancing but how they capture and maintain visitor’s attention. Contact-less transactions are already common, as is plexiglass separations. Everyone wears masks, and facial recognition was just making inroads into touchless merchandising, although we’ll need a different facial recognition format with masks. Soon, all entertainment and neighborhood stores will scan your face for payment. In theme parks, rides will require facial scans for access and compensation.

Virtual queuing will allow visitors to organize our stay so they know exactly where to go next and when. Queuing must be entertaining as well so time melts away. Long lines won’t go away but will enjoy entertainment, competing with the ride.

We must not take the word “park” out of theme park. Landscaping and a wide variety of quiet, intimate stops are essential. Existing theme parks should eliminate a lot of their hard-concrete paving and substitute colorful, visually relaxing softscape making a more enjoyable experience. Too many entertainment parks have a mindset of what they have to be and forget about the visitors.

One challenge will be getting visitors to eventually feel comfortable again in traditionally tightly confined spaces. The big fear is that multiple generations will stay away long after the Pandemic.

One more personal amusement park story. In 1968, Marine World/ Africa USA was formed in Redwood City. I had designed a housing project nearby and met Mike Demetrios, the owner. When his lease was up, Demetrios was looking for a new home. I had worked on the Benicia Marina design, then vacant, and suggested he check it out. That’s all he did, but on his way back home he passed Vallejo’s open wetlands with two nearby freeways. Demetrios made a deal with Vallejo, loaded the animals on barges and sailed to their new home. Today, Six Flags is the North Bay’s amusement park magnet. The rest is history.

Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB

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