History of the Weird Utopia Roadtown Part 3

About the history of the weird utopia Roadtown designed by Edgar Chambless a strange train-like community.

ROADTOWN: ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL UTOPIAS EVER PROPOSED

Roadtown would ensure: cooperation in the use of land, machines, and power supply; effective transportation of products; and the operation of machines and the working of the land by individuals. There would be no trusts or corporations to take profits away from the workers, no capitalistic ownership of materials and machines.

Smokeless and noiseless Boyes Monorail trains (patents donated by the inventor) would serve passengers at local stations 100 yd. apart and at express stations (on lower levels) 5 mi. apart. Freight could be carried on locals and at night, as well as in small mechanical carriers--like those once used in department stores and large libraries--with an automatic switch system to provide delivery to individual apartments.

All transportation links would be combined in one system "to give the social body proper arms and legs to make them not as they are, separate and uncoordinated functions, but as a part, in fact the most important part, of the scheme of civilization."

Social life would be concentrated on the roof, reachable by stairs from each house, where art galleries, museums, clubhouses, and other recreational facilities would be located. (Athletic fields would edge Roadtown.) Education would be lifelong, noncompulsory, for both sexes and all ages--a universal university, in which a "man skilled in botany will instruct groups of children in his garden, and the chemist and mineralogist in their laboratories."

With a population of 1,000 to the mile (250 houses holding four people each), Roadtowns in the early 1900s were to cost from $1,500 to $3,000 per house. These would be built using work trains provided with steam shovels and cranes. Every two or three miles, heating plants would be constructed; water would come from local sources; sewage would be channeled into valleys to fertilize local nonfood crops. One of Chambless's important principles is: "Roadtown utilizes every utility in length, which gives the maximum efficiency for that particular device."

Money for initial construction was to come from a restricted corporation, one chartered with nominal capital stock and paying moderate interest. Ownership was to revert to the inhabitants of Roadtown eventually.

Roadtown was an idea that died, probably done in by the proliferation of the automobile coupled with suburban sprawl, both of which embodied many of its principles. In his book, Chambless spoke of "a hundred high-class families" who wanted to buy houses in the first section of Roadtown if it were built near enough New York City. But the East was not open enough; it was crisscrossed with roads and cut up by fenced fields of exhausted land.

Chambless went west, where large tracts of land still existed, and began promoting his idea in San Francisco. According to an article in a 1914 issue of Sunset magazine, he was planning to build a Roadtown exhibit for the famous Panama-Pacific International Exposition to be held in San Francisco in 1915, but no souvenir booklets from the exposition mention Roadtown, and Chambless himself dropped from sight, his unusual vision of utopia unrealized.

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