Instead of Vertical Cities, Should We Be Thinking About Linear Cities?

©. Michael Graves/ Peter Eisenman

There is a lot of talk these days aboutVertical Cities, the idea we should build supertall buildings that include all necessary functions of a city, and surround them by green space for park and agriculture. I have thought it an interesting idea, but there is another alternative that I always thought made more sense, the linear city.

Roadtown cover

Roadtown: cover of book/Public Domain

I first described the idea of Roadtown a couple of years ago, proposed in 1910 by Edgar Chambless. He writes in his wonderful book available here:

The idea occurred to me to lay the modern skyscraper on its side and run the elevators and the pipes and wires horizontally instead of vertically. Such a house would not be limited by the stresses and strains of steel; it could be built not only a hundred stories, but a thousand stories or a thousand miles....I would take the apartment house and all its conveniences and comforts out among the farms by the aid of wires, pipes and of rapid and noiseless transportation.
Linear City

© Michael Graves/ Peter Eisenman via Dwell

The Jersey Corridor Project

It's really a brilliant idea. Instead of going up, with buildings connected by rail or road, you go horizontal, and the building becomes the communications link as well, with rail running underneath. you just walk out the door and you are in the country or your garden. It turns out that it is also an idea that was picked up in 1965 by two young architecture grads, Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman, in a proposal called the Jersey Corridor Project. They proposed a twenty-mile long linear city. Karrie Jacobs described it in Dwell: consisted of two parallel strips, one for industry and the other “a nearly endless ‘downtown’ of homes, shops, services” with highways in the basement, running like a ribbon through an otherwise pristine natural landscape.

It's described in December 24, 1965 Life Magazine as being the start of a project that might run from Maine to Miami.

from video: section

From video Michael Graves: Linear City | Grounds For Sculpture/Video screen capture

At the very bottom, through roads slice under pedestrian walkways. Above this are parking tiers and freight handling areas. Six stories above ground, there is "ample space for open air cafes, shops and pedestrian strolling- and striking vistas. Above that are apartments, and on the very top, restaurants, pools and penthouses."

There is a separate and parallel business building. "the need for central superstores would be eliminated by distributing goods on automated channels running the city's length... Small electric vehicles, summoned by a button, whisk cityites [sic] along their immense hometown. With facilities snugly intermingled near any given point, travel along expressways to larger centers is diminished."


From video Michael Graves: Linear City | Grounds For Sculpture/Video screen capture

The final result could be a system which at once would send the longest manmade structure ever seen on the earth snaking across its horizons, and at the same time making it possible to conduct most urban activities within distances a man enjoys to walk.

This is an idea whose time has come.

There is a Michael Graves show happening now at Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey; They have made a lovely video that describes the linear city. All over North America, lots of money is being spent on rail and transit infrastructure; perhaps the linear city is an idea whose time has finally come, and could help pay for it all.