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The experimental city (1967)

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The experimental city

A city without slums, traffic jams, noise, smog, water shortages or pollution, industrial blight, junk yards, suburban sprawl or urban jangle. A city without unemployment, without the social and economic conflicts that cause strife. A city whose citizens do not have to pay dearly for the barest comforts of life.

Never in the history of mankind has there been such a city. It sounds a Utopian dream.

Yet, such a city, is not only possible and practical, but lies within the present grasp of our technology. To make it a reality requires only that we shift our traditional concepts of what a city is and examine some new ones.

This article, and four which follow, will introduce some quite realistic plans for an Experimental City of the future on which construction could begin right now — a city engineered with the same practicality as a modern automobile, a city guaranteeing easy recreation and clean surroundings as basic rights, a city without waste.

On the basis of the general proposals which these articles will outline, the federal government already has initiated a planning study. The University of Minnesota was granted $248,000 last November to get the work underway. Private foundations will provide additional capital. General Electric Co. has a privately financed investigation of the city being studied in Santa Barbara, Calif. So the idea is far from being a “blue sky” dream — although restoring blue skies free of air pollution is a major objective.

All the cities of the past and those we live in today have grown and developed by accidents of history, changing populations, altering economics. Even cities built “on purpose” — such as St Petersburg, decreed by a Russian czar, or Brazil’s shiny new capital, Brasilia, have or soon will have succumbed to accidental forces and must engage in the historic losing battle to keep themselves habitable by means of patchwork and faulty new expedients to gloss over the faulty expedients of the past.

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This is because cities grow like organisms and respond like organisms to uncontrolled demands and stresses made upon them. Today’s big city, in fact, has come to resemble a cancerous organism whose growth and change itself has become uncontrollable, chaotic and ultimately fatal.

The concept

The basic concept of the Experimental City is precisely that it not be an organism. The Experimental City would be a machine. It would be designed from scratch as an engineer designs any machine. It would be designed to accomplish a specific purpose at a desired capacity and to do so with the greatest efficiency that technological art and knowledge can build into it.

The design objective for this machine would be to provide a maximum ease of living and working for an optimum number of people. This ease would be the opposite of the endemic disease that plagues every present city.

It would be an Experimental City in the most literal scientific sense of the word. An experiment is a way of gathering facts about a given problem by imposing certain conditions on the problem. Any experimenter assumes that he will make mistakes — indeed, it is very often from his mistakes that he gains knowledge of the matter being examined.

In this sense, the Experimental City is very different from Utopia, the mythically perfect social structure. The Experimental City would be a machine with easily replaceable parts and mistakes would be corrected as soon as they become evident.

What will it be like?

It will be a real city, not a laboratory model. Real people will live in it. They will go to office, school, shop or factory. They will live in their own homes as individuals. They will earn and pay their own way, and the city will support itself as a social and economic entity.

But, it will be very much different from the cities with which we are familiar. Its location could be anywhere — even in a desert in the middle of nowhere. It would not have to be situated on or near a river, lake or ocean. It would not require fertile soil, rainfall, locally available fuel, power or natural resources.

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The presence of these necessities are among the accidents that have led to the founding of past cities. Nothing will be accidental about the Experimental City. It will be planned and it will be built to its maximum size at the very outset.

This size — namely the number of people who will live and work there — will be part of the design and the optimum number is not now known. However, it predictably would be large enough to support a full, varied social and cultural life and of course, a healthy, workable business and industrial complex. Let us arbitrarily suggest a population of 250,000.

Before the first citizens move in, the Experimental City already would exist with full-sized factories, residential areas, utility and transportation systems and all the school facilities, public and business buildings needed for an entire population of that size.

>> Read — and see — more on the next page

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