I’ve been thinking about city management recently, after having just returned from Disney World in Orlando, FL.
I had never been to Disney World and didn’t have any rosy memories to cloud my view but I was very impressed. I came back wishing Waukesha was a little more like the Magic Kingdom.
In addition to the beautiful weather (possibly the one thing Disney can’t control), I was impressed by the marvels of engineering and ingenuity, the reliable mass transit, cleanliness, good maintenance, strong public safety and good customer service, all of which was well-organized and predictable.
And when things didn’t happen the way they were supposed to, like when a ride broke down and people had to be escorted off through dark tunnels of Splash Mountain, there were procedures so that the situation was as good as it could be.
One of my fellow travels called Disney World a metropolis and it is, in every sense of the word.
In considering Disney World, I was reminded of our city and having been thinking there are a number of things we could learn from Disney.
Mass transit – in terms of moving people from one place to another, Disney has it down to a science. No fumbling for bus money or passes. Just look at the map and time schedule and hop on the appropriate mode of transportation, ferry across the lake, monorail to Epcot, bus to any place, including the ESPN Wide World of Sports Center. Cars are optional, unless you want to travel to Wal-Mart or someplace cheaper.
Planning and organization – every night in the Magic Kingdom there are parades and fireworks. The ease with which crowds are managed and dispersed and ropes are set-up and cleaned up is enviable for anyone who has sat in the parking lot at the Expo after the Fourth of July fireworks, choking on dust and exhaust.
I will admit that there are a lot circumstances that make it easier to control crowds at Disney, for example, the lack of cars, the family-friendly atmosphere and the alcohol restrictions. I didn’t see any drunks, except possibly one vagrant on the parkway into Disneyland who was literally surrounded by police, which seemed a bit excessive. Not saying that bad things don’t happen in the Magic Kingdom because people misbehave all the time but restricting alcohol certainly helps curb some of that behavior. Security was either plain-clothed or non-obtrusive.
Emphasis on the multicultural – Disney doesn’t try to hide its ethnicity but instead celebrates it, in big and small ways, like the infamous Small World boat ride and name tags on employees with their country of origin. It makes it easier to be forgiving of faux pas or when someone doesn’t understand you.
Emphasis on good customer service and making sure guests have a good experience – I cynically thought that by the end of the five days at Disney I would be sick of hearing “Have a magical day!” But no, it made me smile every time. And the big, waving hands at the exits. Thanks, Disney, for the silly grin upon remembering them.
In little and big ways, Disney employees really did go out of their way to help us around the parks and hotel.
One of our sons has a life-threatening food allergy which makes it difficult to eat at restaurants. At Disney, it was obvious that ensuring his safety was a priority for Disney restaurant workers. Chefs would actually come to the table to talk to us about the ingredients and if something wasn’t O.K., they would fix it without any qualms, a very welcome and relieving experience for us.
We could raise our expectations of customer service here in Waukesha, whether in service from our municipal workers or businesses. Politely, courteously asking workers for what you need, whether help with a paperwork matter, in dealing with a food allergy or finding something in-stock, can only ease or increase their business, creating a win-win situation for all. If you treat people well, they will respond in kind. Not everything has to be a hassle and basic politeness is never out of order.
The one difference that had me longing for Waukesha was that everything at Disney was very expensive. I’m a frugal Midwestern girl at heart but still, it’ll be a while before we recover from our Disney debt.
A simple fast food meal for two people (a hot dog, cheese burger, two orders of French fries and two drinks) cost almost $30, including the 6.5 percent sales tax. A comparable meal in Waukesha would be $10 to $20 less, depending on where you go. Our sales tax is 5.5 percent and our food prices are much cheaper.
All that mass transit, innovative design, pools, rides, amenities, not to mention basic infrastructure and personnel, costs money and are paid for by the visitors, with some leftover for the profit margins.
Besides cost, another area in which Waukesha is better than Disney is water, despite all our water woes. Waukesha water, radium-laced though it may be, still tastes better than Florida swamp water.
But I wonder how much money Waukesha would be willing to spend for some of that Disney convenience like widespread mass transit, good maintenance, cleanliness and amenities. I’m not saying Waukesha is lacking but that Disney is head-and-shoulders above our city in those areas.
Maybe Mayor Jeff Scrima recently came back from the Magic Kingdom, employing some Disney-esque logic in his recent State of the City speech:
"Happy families are all alike," Scrima said. "They have meaningful work, responsible finances, reliable systems and clear goals.
"In the same way, since cities are in some way larger families, happy cities have meaningful work, responsible finances, reliable systems and clear goals.”
I totally agree, Mayor. Have a magical day, everyone.