THE TOWN FOR THE MOTOR AGE
The industrialization of the United States after World War I led to migration from the rural areas and a dramatic growth of the cities during the 1920's. This population shift led to a severe housing shortage. The automobile, which was becoming a mainstay in American life, added a new problem to urban living. Drastic changes in urban design were necessary to provide more housing and to protect people from the horseless carriage. In answer to the needs of "modern society", Radburn, the "Town for the Motor Age" was created in 1929.
How Radburn was going to meet the problems of "modern society" is best illustrated in architect Henry Wright's "Six Planks for a Housing Platform". These ideas formed the basic philosophy that he followed in designing Radburn. His planks were:
Provide ample sites in the right places for community use: i.e., playgrounds, school gardens, schools, theatres, churches, public buildings and stores.
Put factories and other industrial buildings where they can be used without wasteful transportation of goods or people.
Cars must be parked and stored, deliveries made, waste collected - plan for such services with a minimum of danger, noise and confusion.
Bring private and public land into relationship and plan buildings and groups of buildings with relation to each other. Develop collectively such services as will add to the comfort of the individual, at lower cost than is possible under individual operation.
Arrange for the occupancy of houses on a fair basis of cost and service, including the cost of what needs to be done in organizing, building and maintaining the community.
The primary innovation of Radburn was the separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. This was accomplished by doing away with the traditional grid-iron street pattern and replacing it with an innovation called the superblock. The superblock is a large block of land surrounded by main roads. The houses are grouped around small cul-de-sacs, each of which has an access road coming from the main roads. The remaining land inside the superblock is park area, the backbone of the neighborhood. The living and sleeping sections of the houses face toward the garden and park areas, while the service rooms face the access road.
The walks that surround the cul-de-sacs on the garden side of the houses divide the cu-de-sacs from each other and from the central park area. These paths cross the park when necessary. Finally, to further maintain the separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, a pedestrian underpass and an overpass, linking the superblocks, were provided. The system was so devised that a pedestrian could start at any given point and proceed on foot to school, stores or church without crossing a street used by automobiles.
Another innovation of Radburn was that the parks were secured without additional cost to the residents. The savings in expenditures for roads and public utilities at Radburn, as contrasted with the normal subdivision, paid for the parks. The Radburn type of plan requires less area of street to secure the same amount of frontage. In addition, for direct access to most houses, it used narrower roads of less expensive construction, as well as smaller utility lines. In fact, the area in streets and length of utilities is 25% less than in the typical American street. The savings in cost not only paid for 12 - 14% of the total area that went into internal parks, but also covered the cost of grading and landscaping the play spaces and green links connecting the central block commons.
The genius of the Radburn Plan is shown in the use of the small property lots and cul-de-sac construction to finance part of the land, as well as the grading and the landscaping which is the most costly part of park building. The cost of living in such a community was therefore set at a minimum for the homeowner, and the cost to the builder was small enough to make the venture profitable.
Radburn had been conceived by Stein and Wright to house 25,000 people. The boundaries of this community were to be the Saddle River on the east (Radburn means Saddle River in Old English) , the Erie Railroad on the west, the Glen Rock border on the north, and Saddle Brook Township on the south. The Old Mill, now part of the Bergen County Park System, was to be the entrance of this new city. The Depression pushed the builder, City Housing Corporation, into bankruptcy. For this reason, Radburn could not expand beyond its present size of 149 acres which includes 430 single family homes, 90 row houses, 54 semi-attached houses and a 93 apartment unit, as well as a shopping center, parks and amenities.
Although the physical plan of Radburn has been an inspiration to planners and architects here in the United States and abroad for almost 60 years, equally important in the development of Radburn is The Radburn Association. The Association is a non-profit corporation charged with fixing, collecting and disbursing charges; maintaining services, parks and facilities; and interpreting and applying the Declaration of Restrictions, which are restrictive covenants running with the land. Each property within the Association boundaries is governed by these Restrictions.
The Association manages a park network of 23 acres, two swimming pools, four tennis courts, four baseball fields, three playground areas, five outdoor basketball courts, an archery plaza, two summer houses, and a community center called the Grange, which includes offices, a library, clubroom, kitchen, maintenance shop and garage, a recreation room and a gymnasium equipped with a stage. On this stage, the Radburn Players, the oldest active amateur theatre group in the state, produce several shows each year. The physical properties allow the Association to provide a comprehensive recreation program for its residents all year long. The affairs of the Association are handled much like the council-manager form of government. The nine member Board of Trustees sets policies and approves the budget, while the administration lies in the hands of a full time paid manager. Every resident is automatically a member of the Citizens' Association, whose President sits as a full member of the Board of Trustees during his term of office. This group gives the citizens a forum for voicing opinions and addressing concerns directly to the Board of Trustees through its President.
In the field of planning and architecture, Radburn has been called by Anthony Bailey, "the most significant notion in 20th Century urban development". Lewis Mumford considered it "the first major advance in city planning since Venice". Radburn is unique because it was envisioned as a town for better living, and it was the first example of city planning which recognized the importance of the automobile in modern life without permitting it to dominate the environment. It was the first time in th United States that a housing development was attempted on such a large scale, proceeding from a definite architectural plan resulting in a complete town. Radburn is also important to builders because of the unique way that the parks and grading were funded.
From a sociological point of view, Radburn not only exemplifies an ideally planned place to live, but it establishes a real mode or plan of living. The planned use of the land and the establishment of the Association creates a lifestyle that is unheard of in most of modern society. It is a lifestyle of community concern, action and participation. James Dahir saw in Radburn a new hope for a humanistic society through planning which took into account the social, as well as the physical needs of the residents.
He writes that Radburn is:
"social planning of an advanced order. It is manipulation of physical elements to induce and encourage a social and human goal. It is a kind of planning which recognizes that the growing edge of civilization is in the human and not the mechanical direction, though the mechanical factors must be carefully aligned and allocated to support and advance the communal achievements and the social inventions of a free people of autonomous family life."As the country struggled out of the Depression, the influence of the Radburn Idea was first reflected in the various Greenbelt communities of the Resettlement Administration and later, in Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles and Kitimat. B. C. The Idea then showed up in England and later in Sweden at Vallingly, the huge Stockholm suburb; at the Baronbackavna Estate, Orebro and at the Beskopsgaden Estate, Goteborg. It was in post world War II England that Radburn achieved generic status. The "Radburn Plan", the "Radburn Idea", the "Radburn Layout" appeared first at Coventry and later at Stevenage, Bracknell and Cumbernauld. It has since spread to Chandigarh, India; to Brazil; to several towns in Russia and to a section of Osaka, Japan. The Japanese community is almost an exact duplicate of Radburn. The "Idea" finally returned to the United States at Reston, Virginia and Columbia, Maryland. Several towns since have been modeled after the "Radburn Plan". Brazilia and the capital of New Zealand are current projects which are consciously implementing Radburn-based concepts.
The importance of Radburn is clearly seen in its influence on the planning of many towns throughout the world. Its sociological impact through its planning has made the style of life noteworthy and right for modern living. Hundreds come each year from all around the world to see and study the Radburn Idea. New towns are being built each year modeled after the Radburn Idea, using both its planning ideas and covenants in designing their urban development. Radburn, planned as a "Town for the Motor Age" is truly a "Town for Tomorrow"
Ronald F. Gatti, Manager, 1969 - 1989