The Radburn Superblock

With the exception of the radical response of the Ville Radieuse, previous chapters hardly needed to discuss the way the accommodation of moving and parked cars influenced the form of the projects described. The motor vehicle was not a sufficiently important factor impinging on the design of the urban tissue. It will be a major factor in this chapter, starting in 1929, when the superblock was conceived for the new town of Radburn in the US by Clarence Stein at a time when car ownership was at levels that were not to be reached for another 25 years in the UK1 . This layout set out to completely separate pedestrians from vehicles while, unlike the Ville Radieuse, still using conventional single-family houses. It excluded all through movement from a two-square-mile block of development that was surrounded by a 350-foot-wide (100-metre-wide) wide reservation accommodating arterial roads with a limited number of access roads into each superblock.

At a first glance the layout of the houses within the superblock bears a striking resemblance to the closes of Welwyn discussed in Chapter 2. A more careful examination reveals that the houses have two public 'fronts'. One faces the car-access cul-de-sac and the other faces a linear park that accommodates a network of pedestrian routes. These link all the houses to facilities such as schools using bridges or underpasses where it is necessary to cross a road. The role ofofficial policy in influencing the form of the urban tissue has been noted in previous chapters. This applied to the Radburn superblock, which was adopted in the 1930s by the United States Federal Housing Authority as its preferred form. This was important because, as the agency that approved government-insured mortgages, it was able to encourage lenders to favour loans to houses on culs-de-sac rather than to those on the traditional layout of a grid of connected streets.

135 C.A.Perry (1929), 'The Neighbourhood Unit', in Regional Survey of New York and its Environs (Vol. VII) (New York, NY: Regional Plan of New York).

136 Ministry of Health (1944), The Design of Dwellings (the Dudley Report) (London: HMSO).

137 M. Biddulph (2000), 'Villages don't make a city', in Journal of Urban Design, 5 (1), pp. 65-82.

138 C.S. Stein (1958), Towards new towns for America (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press).

Typical House Radburn Garden City

Figure 64 (Clarence Stein, "Towards New Towns for America'')

a. Clarence Stein and Henry Wright. The 1929 plan of the residential districts of Radburn, NJ. The horizontal separation of vehicle and pedestrian routes is clear.

b. The plan of a cul-de-sac at Radburn. There is a superficial resemblance to the closes at Welwyn Garden City discussed in Chapter 2.

c. Four alternative ways of developing a block, from Clarence Stein, Toward New Towns for America (1950). They are intended to show a progressive reduction in the importance of the lot as "the controlling factor in design'. The lowest plan is that of the blocks as built at Sunnyside in 1924. There are interesting comparisons to be made with May's work discussed in Chapter 4.

Architecture Idea DevelopmentOpen Space Dessin Plan

Rgure 65

a. The neighbourhood unit as conceived (right) by Clarence Perry in 1929 and (left) by Duany Plater-Zyberk, from Charter of the New Urbanism (1999). The latter differs in that the school is on the edge ofthe unit, there are road links to adjoining neighbourhoods and office buildings and open spaces flank the arterial roads to act as sound barriers.

b. A figure ground plan of the new town of Milton Keynes (Martin Davies (2002), unpublished urban design project, Oxford Brookes University).

c. A comparison between sprawl (above), which eliminates pedestrian connections and focuses all traffic on to a single road, and the traditional neighbourhood (below) (Duany Plater-Zyberk and Speck (2000), Suburban Nation: the Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream).

In Britain the apotheosis of the combined paradigms of Radburn layout and the neighbourhood unit was achieved with the 1km-square blocks of Milton Keynes, the last new town, which was designated in 1966 and is still growing. But, even in places where the concept was less rigorously applied, the growth of traffic volumes made the exclusion of through traffic from residential areas seem ever more desirable. But the means adopted for this exclusion also served to isolate neighbourhoods from one another and from the rest of the town. The horizontal separation of vehicles and pedestrians and the way motor car movement was privileged over other forms of mobility, including walking and public transport, was to set the mould for development over the rest of the century.

Accommodating the motor car was to be the determining factor in the design of housing areas for the latter half of the twentieth century. It impacted in two ways. The first was through the layout of dendritic or treelike road systems, which were intended to facilitate fluid vehicle movement by reducing the number of junctions, eliminating crossroads and, wherever possible, shifting pedestrians onto separate route systems. The second impact came from the need to accommodate a continually growing number of parked cars in housing areas - and in the other parts of our towns for that matter.

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