Walt Disney World (FL)

Urban Planner Walk Through Liberty Square To Frontierland – Part 1

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Hello. This is continuation of my walk through the various lands in the Magic Kingdom. This week we see how Liberty Square and Frontierland share a a lot of things in common but remain distinctly different in feel.

For more of this type of stuff I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.


There is just no way around it. I can’t talk about what is going on with Liberty Square without talking about Frontierland. Both lands share the same organizing principle, as this series will highlight. Both lands are adjacent to the Rivers of America and use that asset to enhance the story. These land combine to become the Magic Kingdom’s time machine.

This is one of my favorite things about the Magic Kingdom – how Liberty Square and Frontierland work together to project upon the environment the history of the American western migration. Pretty deep, eh? Let’s step into that time machine and see how the designers pulled off this clever bit of urban design.

It might help for you to get into the right frame of mind for this article. If you are like me when you visit the Magic Kingdom, you like to imagine that you are walking onto a three-dimensional movie set that is the stage for your own personal film. Each land is designed to inspire you by contributing the key movie theme that can be the foundation for your experience.

In the Magic Kingdom you have the choice to enter a world of fantasy and childhood delights or go on an exotic foreign adventure. You can blast into a sci-fi future or visit the unreal world of the toons. But this journey will be a time travel story and we are about to take a step back in time.

When planning an urban environment you have to start with something. You need to pay attention to the centers that already exist. By this I mean that special quality that sometimes is hard to name but you know in your heart and head exists. The best urban environments have this quality and a theme park is certainly an urban environment.

For Frontierland and Liberty Square that center was purposefully created and is the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island. This band of green space defines the edges for both lands in subtly different ways. The river also becomes the connection between the different lands and provides the necessary continuity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We are going to start this journey from the Hub. As you know, adjacent to the Hub is Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland. Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland feature similar arrival elements consisting of a strong gateway and a feature that is moving off in the distance. That moving feature is the proverbial “wienie” and is meant to draw you into the land.

Frontierland is not adjacent to the Hub like it is at Disneyland and Adventureland doesn’t have the “wienie” feature. Why? It wouldn’t be an adventure if you knew what was beyond the gates, right?

Imagine you are standing next to the Partners statue and facing due west. We are going to walk that direction. You will see how the time machine effect starts even before your feet touch the wooden bridge. In the movies the editor will use a technique called a cross-dissolve to transition from one scene to another. There are physical versions of cross-dissolves throughout the Magic Kingdom and this is how you can spot them.

The designers have used paving materials as one way to create that smooth transition. As you walk from the Hub to Liberty Square, notice how the smooth pavement turns to brick and then wood as you cross over the bridge. This subtle transformation helps to plant the seed that you are entering a different time and place. Going from Main Street USA to Liberty Square means you have to turn back the clock 150 years from small town America during the early 1900s to the east coast at the time of the founding of the nation.

As with everything you are about to see, even this bridge is loaded with meaning. Nothing is there by accident. The bridge was meant to be a copy of the Concord Bridge AKA the Old North Bridge where the Colonials faced off with the British in 1775. The moment when our nation change is the start of our journey through America’s past.

Once through the brick gates the main element is the public square. The Square is framed by the iconic buildings, the boathouse, and the splash of green just off into the distance from Tom Sawyer Island. That public square is the center and focus of the entire land just like how the space would have functioned in Colonial days. The Liberty Tree balances the large Hall of President’s building and softens the space. That tree is one of the largest trees ever transplanted at Walt Disney World.

To embellish and enhance that special place, additional little areas are carved out behind the main buildings. No other land at the Magic Kingdom provides these types of discoverable spaces. These new centers in turn make each other special and that creates an urban landscape that is rewarding, functional, and memorable. It is one of the reasons New Orleans Square in Disneyland is so well loved.

The river is more than just a backdrop that frames one side of the outdoor room known as the public square. Its real magic is how it is used as the thread that moves the back-story along. And that back-story is nothing less than the quintessential time trip from colonial days through the American western migration.

Next week we will cross that bridge and explore what is on the other side.

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Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennaway is an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

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