So, just like any good columnist, I might as well follow the herd and put in my $.02 worth. However, I am going to lean in a slightly different direction and talk about how I tend to process the underlying guiding design principles of this very unique theme park. It comes down to two ideas: Contrast and Balance.

According to architect Christopher Alexander, one of the primary design building blocks is the use of contrast. In The Nature of Order,

Contrast is used to demonstrate how to identify when people and nature are in balance. Some say that the conservation theme is delivered in a heavy-handed fashion. Some say that it is commendable that a corporation such as Disney is using a theme park to educate the public as well as entertain them. I am more intrigue by the clever use of contrast and the transect as a way to calibrate the urban design guiding principles of each of the different lands.

The pathways in the Oasis meander and cross under a land bridge just like the train tunnels at the Magic Kingdom. This obstruction acts like a curtain that sets up the big reveal; your first view of the iconic Tree of Life. The wide walkway over the main bridge is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there and gawk. Many visitors will not realize that from the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.Like the other Disney park entrances, the Oasis funnels you through a single entrance and a narrow portal to separate you from the real world and allow you to enter the fantasy world of the park. Although it may not be obvious at first, the layout for Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom are very similar. In both parks, you walk through a narrow corridor that creates a shared experience with other guests and that experience transfers you from the real world and immerses you into a fantasy environment (the Oasis and Main Street USA). The only way to really see the parks iconic structures fully (Tree of Life and Cinderella Castle) is to cross underneath an obstruction (the rock cropping at the end of the Oasis or the tunnels under the train). The best view of the park icon occurs when you cross over a slightly elevated, very wide bridge that stretches over a waterway. Beyond the bridge is a central area that acts like the hub of a wheel and the various lands radiate out like spokes (Discovery Island and the Plaza Hub).

Discovery Island is the hub. Here nature and people are in balance. The decoration embedded in the architecture is a celebration of animals. The trees tower over the structures. The focus is on the Tree of Life at the center.

As we travel clockwise, we come to Camp Minnie-Mickey which I will ignore as it was just kind of slapped into the park at the last minute. The next land is Africa. Here, urban life was beginning to carve its way into the wilderness and people were beginning to upset the balance. However, wisely, the community pulled back and has benefited by careful stewardship of the land and the constant search for balance. The contrast is the way the wilderness frames the very urban plaza at the heart of Harambe Village. Even the main attraction, the Kilimanjaro Safaris, was primarily a battle between passive exploitation of nature versus aggressive exploitation.

Next comes Asia. Throughout Asia we see the constant struggle between man and nature. It seems that nature seems to be winning in this case. The structures are covered in plant material, which seem to be slowly destroying what was built and returning them to the soil. The two main attractions are not-so-subtle hints that people are evil and will destroy what nature has brought merely for the sake of making money. Whether that is clear-cutting a forest like the Kali Rapids River ride or tromping through sacred ground like Expedition Everest.

So, you must be asking by now what does this have to do with Avatar. After some thought, I feel the movie is a good fit. It is a simple, heavy-handed story of what happens when life goes out of balance. It has clearly defined good guys and bad guys. It is a beautiful environment that will be hard to duplicate. However, if the Imagineers succeed, it could be spectacular, especially at night. Disney does not need to worry about taking care of more real animals, thereby saving millions of dollars that would otherwise have to go backstage. Plus, stiltwalkers and very tall people throughout America will now find new employment opportunities. We shall see in a few years.

What do you think? Will Avatar fit the Animal Kingdom environment? Why or why not?

In October, my new book, WALT and the Promise of Progress City, will be available. Just in time for your holiday gift list! We'll have more information for you very soon.