'Broadacre Revisited' by Tom Martinson
Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled his 1934-1935 Broadacres regional concept a lifetime ago. The famed 12' x 12' Broadacre City model of four square miles of "typical countryside" is intricate and fascinating. But surely it is of more value than simply as an impressive artifact from a bygone era.
Specifically, what can we learn from Wright's ideas about regional development that would help us to build better communities today?
In weighing relevance, we need to first understand Wright's underlying worldview, which directly informed his planning philosophy. Was it too personal, too rural, too rooted-in-the-past to connect with our contemporary American society? Or did Wright perceptively identify powerful societal preferences which have resonated with generations of Americans, up to the present?
Wright's planning philosophy guided his planning concepts. What were the essential elements of Broadacres? How did these proposals compare with other American regional planning in the 1930s—were they exotic, advanced, or merely better than the norm?
The answers impact on how Broadacres was received, and its influence, or its seeming lack thereof, over these past eight decades. What were the direct and indirect planning and architectural outcomes of Broadacres? To what extent can we identify higher national community-development benchmarks on account of Wright's proposals? Why were they not more extensively adopted?
Finally, how would a new Broadacre City necessarily differ today? And how would Wright's concepts be applied to the widely diverse climates and settings found across the United States?
Every one of us is a unique and thus valuable creation of our own particular upbringing. So it is unpersuasive to contend, as some of Wright's critics have, that his worldview, and consequently his personal philosophy, were fatally colored by a nineteenth-century small-town upbringing. And therefore his planning must be discounted as irredeemably out-of-touch with modern society. Shakespeare's worldview was formed by a sixteenth-century small-town upbringing, and no one suggests that his insights are irrelevant in today's advanced society. Genius is timeless.
Indeed, Wright's worldview remains solidly relevant for the twenty-first-century urbanized United States. At its basics he revered the majesty of nature and, crucially for an architect, understood its remarkable curative powers on humans. Hence a cohesive integration of the built with nature is a primary community-planning requisite.
This fundamental insight is expressed right at the beginning of his 1935 Architectural Record article introducing Broadacres, "Broadacre City: A New Community Plan." Reflecting his personal philosophy, Wright emphasizes that everyone has a "right" (really, a need) to "his place on the ground [including open access to] the sun and air."
He is unequivocal here: the land itself is man's divine birthright. It follows that nature is a vital component of healthy human environments.
Today, more than forty years after the first Earth Day, that understanding is shared by millions of Americans. Citizens of numerous U.S. cities including Los Angeles, and even many suburbs, have demanded that their community zoning codes prevent new development from blocking sunlight on adjacent properties.
So Wright is certainly not an outlier because of his profound respect for our natural world, and his recognition of the critical physiological need to integrate our built environments with nature. He stands in the honored American environmental traditions also occupied the likes of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Ian McHarg.
Wary of Cities
Growing up experiencing the full glories of nature, Wright was appalled by the industrialized city, which felt dehumanizing to him. Tens of millions of Americans, that large majority of us who have chosen not to live in such places, apparently agree.
Wright's deep unease was not just about industrialized cities per se, but was additionally provoked by what he saw as the negative societal implications of cities, placing him squarely in agreement with Thomas Jefferson.
Distrust of Bigness
Wright took a dim view of institutionalized bigness, whether business or government. He railed against "the wolf, the fox and the rat in human affairs," those whose self-serving machinations cause injury to the many in order to provide "success" for the few.
His view of public office was no less sour: "politics is [a] grafter's profession." As an antidote to all of these unhealthy sides of bigness, he proffered an unexplained personal freedom made possible by Broadacres policies as "a new ideal of success."
Today's news reports of billion-dollar financial scams and routine shady business practices by major corporations confirm Wright's appraisal as both accurate and enduring. However, his compensating remedies are not developed beyond calling for a general smallness of scale.
Wright's Worldview Exemplified
I've remarked elsewhere that Wright had perfect pitch when it came to understanding Americans. This is nowhere more evident than in his championing of two longstanding, apparently permanent American penchants, regional decentralization and personal mobility.
As to the former, the growth of major American cities over the past two centuries is deceptive. In her insightful 1976 study, Order Upon the Land, urban geographer Hildegard Binder Johnson observed that from the early decades of the United States, its urban regions have continuously decentralized.
To be clear about this, decentralization did not just happen. Along with the historical trends identified by Johnson, in the twentieth century decentralization was deliberately encouraged by city planners.
By about 1917 the emergence of suburban commercial centers was appreciated by planners as a potential antidote to downtown congestion. More specifically, a 1931 regional New York City planning study recognized an urgent necessity to relieve "undesirable" density. It called for the "diffused recentralization" of industry in order to "[lessen the] density of congested centers." Residential would also be diffused into compact neighborhoods throughout the entire metropolitan area. And business should similarly be "sub-centralized."
These patterns became apparent nationally a half-century later as urban villages and edge cities.
By now our great American metropolitan areas are majority suburban and exurban. Mature center cities including Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Minneapolis have each lost substantial population since an early postwar peak. As a striking illustration, in 1900 the population density of Manhattan was about 100,000 residents per square mile. A century later that ratio had declined precipitously to around 25,000.
Decentralization is as American as apple pie. Wright intuitively understood this process, and creatively exploited its flow. Broadacres is his studied response.
Personal mobility is a straightforward exercise of freedom; significantly, that very word is visceral to many Americans. Unsurprisingly, then, already in the early 1900s large numbers of Americans had mortgaged their home in order to purchase an automobile, which offered a quantum leap in personal mobility over the horse and buggy, not to mention the streetcar. This was two decades before a limited national highway network emerged in the mid 1920s.
By then, as I related in The Necessity of Roads (2012), ordinary Americans were scrimping on clothes and even on food in order to own a car. Actually, those choices were not unreasonable from a quality-of-life perspective: American Dreamscape (2000) quotes a car-less Miami resident who stated in the late 1990s that, "Your life is very limited if you have to rely on public transit."
Like many Americans, Wright gloried in the freedom of movement offered by the private auto. That is highlighted by his storied auto-caravan trips between Wisconsin and Arizona. He was also captivated by the design of some of these machines, not just his iconic Cherokee-red Lincoln Continental, but also his Auburns, Cords, Cadillacs, a Packard and a Bentley, and two Mercedes-Benzes. This elite personal fleet traces back to Wright's 1909 roadster, known—we can all-too-easily imagine why—by his Oak Park neighbors as the "Yellow Devil."
Clearly the architect's worldview was, and remains, contemporary, mainstream, and above all, prescient. He accurately read, and creatively extrapolated, the enduring preferences and everyday choices of millions of Americans, especially those living in suburbia and exurbia. Wright's regional-planning philosophy is firmly grounded in America.
The Essential Broadacres
Wright thought long and hard about regional development, especially from the 1920s up until his death in 1959. He shared his ideas and conclusions in three books: The Disappearing City (1932), Democracy Builds (1945), and The Living City (1958).
However, his 1935 Architectural Record article cited above accompanied the Broadacre City model, and was specifically intended as a context for and explanation of his Broadacres regional-planning concepts.
Democracy was Wright's overriding touchstone. He contended that Broadacres offered "a new freedom for living in America," though no specifics or detailed reasoning were provided. Many of his Broadacres planning precepts were likewise couched in terms of ensuring the "inherent" democratic rights and values of Broadacre residents. Again, these were generalized assertions without any deeper explanations about how or why this would come about.
Wright's Architectural Record article developed around insights, propositions, and elements:
nature is vital to healthy human environments.
architectural forms should be generated through an organic, style-less response to their situation and potential.
decentralization is the American way.
personal mobility = freedom, thus is especially prized by Americans.
the ideal community is based on a general decentralization and the architectural reintegration of all built elements into one cohesive fabric.
differing land uses are carefully interrelated but not mixed.
rhythms are generally unregimented/un-repetitive, reflecting natural patterns.
rely on the motor car for personal mobility; monorail for public transit
engage and exploit leading interconnection technologies (radio, telephone, and telegraph)
exploit scientific discovery and industrial innovation.
the elimination of municipal government reduces the curse of petty officialdom; one, county level of local government is sufficient.
all matters affecting land use and visual harmony are in the hands of the county architect.
thus harmony of the whole would naturally be expressed differently in each county.
there is no distinction between much and little, more and less; all are united by quality. The only differences are individuality and extent. "There is nothing poor or mean in Broadacres."
coordinated groupings of little farms, little homes; for industry, little factories; little schools, a little university [Wright's itals.]
by contrast, large, minimum one-acre house lots distributed by the state
new technologies incorporated in housing, though natural materials are used where desirable
functional improvements, like substitution of remotely generated power for local coal burning
pedestrian movement, especially of school children, separated from streets and highways
multifaceted transportation network based on mode and speed; engineered for efficient movement of traffic with no grade crossings
emphasis on public venues: for the fine- and performing arts, sports, crafts, and the natural world (lake and stream, arboretum, zoo, aquarium).
Wright the futurist worked through two interrelated tracks in the early 1930s. At one end of the building-arts spectrum, he systematically studied regional development. Broadacres is the best-known product of that course of his investigations.
Concurrently Wright also developed an innovative new kind of single-family housing, which he called Usonian. Like most other designs of the Depression years, notably excepting movie sets for musical extravaganzas, these were simplified, abstracted compared to previous American houses, even to Prairie houses.
Usonian houses were pivotal to Wright's overall goals in addressing the contemporary social context (see Addressing the State of 1930s Society, below). Usonian houses provide exceptional living experiences. Most are relatively small, all are highly efficient functionally, spatially advanced, and flooded with light. Such qualitative attributes were fundamental to Broadacres.
The 1930s were years of innovation in American planning, in particular for large housing developments. So Wright the innovative planner was once again right in the mainstream. Key residential projects of the time include the 1928-1931 Radburn in New Jersey, the 1932 ff. Chatham Village in Pittsburgh, the 1935-1940 Colonial Village in suburban Washington, D.C., and the 1938-1940 Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles.
Each shared at least some features with Broadacres, including planned development (all), featured superblock layout (Baldwin Hills), systematic separation of pedestrian from vehicular (especially Radburn), and the adjacent preservation, if not the integral inclusion, of natural landscape (Chatham Village). But these were all housing developments, not prototypical communities, as Broadacres, which also had to satisfy complex technical and regional issues.
At metropolitan scale, in addition to highway planning, substantial regional-planning activity was underway by the 1930s, notably in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Planning organized as a separate discipline was then quite new and still mostly reactive. So regional planners focused on rationalizing any of many separate technical issues that were then bedeviling cities.
Sharply rising automobile congestion was first on almost everyone's agenda. Planners also systematically addressed water supply, sewers, flood control, leapfrog development, open space acquisition, electrical transmission, and other topics, some purely local. Beyond auto congestion, these issues were not universally addressed in every area with regional-planning activity.
Hence Broadacres stands well apart from other planning of the era in its scope, high degree of comprehensiveness, and its creativity. It is important to emphasize that while Wright's planning was thus advanced for its time, it was definitely not exotic, much less quixotic, as some critics insinuated. Other than monorail public transportation, it proposed little that from a practical technical perspective could not have been accomplished at the time. Even Wright's seemingly way-out assumption that some routine personal travel would occur by helicopter ("aeroter") was still anticipated more than a decade later by well-known postwar architects. For instance, Boston architect Ralph Rapson unfailingly included a helicopter in his house renderings into the 1950s.
No version of Broadacre City was built. That does not mean it was a failure, nor without influence. Many plans have been influential while never realized, like Victor Gruen's 1958 Fort Worth downtown peripheral-parking concept.
Broadacres would never have been implemented as proposed. It carried too much baggage, some of it unnecessary. The following are obvious examples:
personal philosophy got in the way—readers, especially including potential implementers, had to slog through Wright's rambling, unsupported opinions get to the buried gems of Wright's planning insights. Any proposer needs to effortlessly engage his audience, not set up roadblocks.
unconvincing assertions—brilliance as an architect and a planner does not mean that Wright was also an authority in unrelated fields like economics. Unconvincing and unexplained assertions such as that Broadacres would forever end unemployment diminished the credibility of both the plan and its planner.
need for control—Broadacres was to be developed as a piece, indeed, as a piece of art. This would require the absolute, long-term control of a supervising county architect. No elected public body could devolve such authority to staff, and no private-property developer would effectively hand over its financial control to others. Even Broadacres' contemporary, the powerful, top-down TVA did not attempt to exert such omnipotence for its own projects.
product of its time—Wright had uncanny prescience. Even so, the plan was unavoidably influenced by its time. Which explains the large lots for food self-sufficiency during the Depression, and what now reads as nostalgia (the farm is the signature feature of the city). Broadacres was devised just a few years before U.S. society moved into a radically new era when such key features seemed dated and even irrelevant.
cold, then hot—community development during the Depression and war years was government-sponsored and valued efficiency, not vision—such as the architecturally featureless Manhattan Project town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After the war, housing demand heated up overnight, and easier-to-develop approaches like Levittown mass production and the later curvilinear suburbs trumped the complex, custom approach of Broadacres.
The public and professional responses to Broadacres has varied widely over the years. Initially debuted in a prominent New York City exhibition at Rockefeller Center and concurrently featured in the major national professional publication, it was obviously big news in 1935. Though as an unbuilt proposal Broadacres was soon overshadowed by the dramatic realities of Wright's Fallingwater and Johnson's Wax.
Especially once Wright was safely dead, modernist snipers and urbanists adopted an attitude of condescension, belittling Broadacres as a charming idea from the past which had little relevance today. Indeed, the low-density Broadacres worsened sprawl; this was taken as the primary if not sole consideration, so there was no need to analyze whether any of the plan's many other features might have value.
A third response is neutrality. Academics and other serious experts cannot ignore Broadacres since there has been nothing else like it. So they generally cite the plan without taking sides, though often adding a whiff of disapproval.
For example, a recent blog by Charles Waldheim labels Broadacres as, "a grand proposal for organic American urbanism," whatever that means, and goes on to say that Wright proposed "settlement across an essentially boundless plain of cultivated landscape." In other words, wasting productive agricultural lands.
Mel Scott's classic 1969 history of American planning devoted about one-quarter of a page (out of 653 pages total) to Broadacres. In describing Wright's plan as "daring," Scott suggested that it was impractically out of the mainstream. He reinforced this implication by adding that it was considered to be "unrealistic" by urbanists. Yet in conclusion he conceded that Broadacres probably resonated with most Americans.
A fourth possible response has been limited, as a practical matter, non-existent. That is to study the insights, propositions, and elements of Broadacres in order to learn what we can that helps us to build better communities today.
Assessing influence is not a matter of identifying something completely new about Broadacres the plan, like the Prairie House was for architecture. After all, Wright the planner was an attentive observer of everyday American culture. Thus his ideas about community were not out on the fringe but rather intrinsically mainstream, and hence not necessarily, or even usually, original.
Of course complementary elements which reinforced Broadacres, notably the Usonian house, were advanced, Wright being Wright, after all.
Without doubt, Broadacres' governing insights—the vital importance of nature in human settlements, organically derived architecture, recognition of decentralization and appreciation of the popularity of personal mobility—would enjoy wide approval among Americans.
The Genius of Broadacres
And that is the genius of Broadacres. Instead of imposing something American society clearly doesn't like, as the European modernists attempted with their soulless high-rise neighborhoods, Wright understood, respected, and gave form to what Americans do like.
In effect he offered Broadacres to society: "This is what you want would be like."
Broadacres was planned as a piece. Still, its insights, propositions, and elements are severable. Of course some key societal preferences, like Americans' reliance on private autos, were already evident decades before Wright devised his Broadacre City. Their implications and potentials are reflected in the Broadacres plan. Other plan elements, such as the separation of pedestrians from vehicles, were shared with other contemporary plans. Still others, especially the idea of organic development, are firmly associated with Wright.
Individual Broadacres provisions, irrespective of origins, have been widely employed throughout the United States. As just a few examples: Wright's own 1947 Parkwyn Village Usonian residential subdivision in Michigan; the 1933-1935 Tygart's Valley agricultural housing development in West Virginia; side-by-side lower- and high-income neighborhoods in the 1962 Miami Lakes planned suburb in Florida; organic responses to the physical-cultural setting at D.C. Ranch in Scottsdale; and landscape-buffered adjacent industrial and residential areas in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Broadacre City did exert one very direct influence. Only weeks after the April, 1935 unveiling of Wright's proposal, the federal Resettlement Administration commenced planning for several "rural-industrial communities." As described by Mel Scott, these were to be "small, well-planned [exurban] garden suburbs" of large cities, encircled by a protective greenbelt and capable of producing their own crops, fruit, dairy products, and meat.
Scott continued that in this "idealist" town, "the farmer exchange[ed] the fruits of his labor directly [with the worker] for the wages of industry…The industrial worker, living in an area far superior to that he is normally used to [was] provided with a partial anchor through the opportunity to grow his own food." This program and its social animation as described here is virtually a restatement of Broadacres.
At the time more than two-million Americans, representing upwards of five percent of all families, had joined a back-to-the-farm movement. Such significant numbers indicate that both this government initiative and the Broadacres farm groups were advanced mainstream responses.
Three Greenbelt towns were realized. One, located just outside of Milwaukee, is less than 100 miles from Taliesin. Greenbelt towns were Broadacres Lite, sharing with Wright's vision a clean start, semi-rural reference, a featuring of nature (including in the Wisconsin town a lake and stream, exactly per the Broadacre City model), and an emphasis on bettering the lives of those most hurt by Hard Times.
But they lacked the degree of comprehensiveness, the consistently high creative execution, the advanced, Usonian house designs, and the art of Broadacre City.
National community-development benchmarks are probably a bit higher among first-rank property developers because of Broadacres. Wright's planning is an unavoidable background presence among well-grounded developers, planning practitioners, and municipal staff.
Yet even if this is so, most property developers are conservative, follow the pack, and typically stick doggedly with their own financial pro-formas and construction formulas until they eventually implode in the face of inevitable market changes. Few of these individuals are well-grounded in design and planning, much less are knowledgeable about landmark plans and developments. Even when they have been indirectly influenced by Broadacres, almost certainly they are unaware of it.
Every creation is a reflection of its time. So a contemporary Broadacres would necessarily differ from the original plan in material respects. Even in 1935 American society was diverse, and it is far-more-so today. Demographics have radically changed over these nearly eight decades.
In addition, the United States encompasses numerous permutations of setting, climate, and social culture—not just "typical countryside." So not only would a contemporary Broadacres differ from its 1935 ancestor, there are many possible dissimilar contemporary Broadacres.
As noted above, countless subsequent developments share individual elements with Broadacres. But like any superior idea, Broadacres is much more than just the precise sum of its individual features. So the fundamental planning question in developing a contemporary Broadacres is, What core directions must be present for a development to be authentically "a Broadacres?"
Addressing the State of 1930s Society
To answer that question we should begin by appreciating the milieu when Broadacre City was developed. By 1935 devastating economic depression had impoverished tens of millions of Americans, most of whom had lived reasonably conventional lives before the 1929 Crash. More than a few were now reduced to almost a beggar's lifestyle, families literally scratching out their survival.
Wright the democrat focused on restoring a sense of security and dignity for these Americans. He had obviously thoroughly thought through their particular physical, social, and symbolic needs, which now sharply diverged from the needs of those relative fortunates who still had a job and a home, and thus had not been effectively cast out of "respectable" U.S. society like these newly destitute citizens.
Among its major prescriptions, Broadacres offered:
a palpable personal domain for each family, which would have been psychologically reassuring in reasserting self-identity.
house lots of at least one acre were sized to allow families to grow-raise their own food, additionally providing a measure of self-empowerment.
work (thus regaining a degree of economic status) was located nearby.
reflecting Wright's distrust of bigness and the reckless national financial entities responsible for the Depression, everything was small in scale and diffused in pattern.
Crucially, all this was not simply program. Wright understood that subjectives, especially the quality of these settings, were vital to restoring a sense of worth among dispossessed residents. Hence Wright's overarching planning policy: "There is nothing poor or mean in Broadacres."
Such symbolic association with middle-class society was neither new nor uncommon. In 1918 the U.S. War Department's Emergency Fleet Corporation designed employee housing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in colonial-revival imageries in order to symbolically connect blue-collar factory workers with the tastes of middle-class America. But for Broadacres, Wright went much further in calling for a consistently elevated overall quality of design.
Finally, nature and natural phenomena were integral to the very existence of Broadacres. This was more than presumed good landscaping—lawns, shrubs, and shade trees. Along with millions of his fellow Americans, Wright recognized that architecture without nature is only half of a sufficient human environment. The farm groups, vineyards, and orchards were a calculated identification with the land, even if soon to seem dated in other respects as previously noted. And the model also featured a lake and stream which meandered prominently across Broadacre City.
The State of Society Today
It's said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sure enough, despite extraordinary changes in society and America's place in the world since 1935, once again tens of millions of Americans have been effectively dispossessed by the financial chicanery of the powerful few.
They are members of the once-flourishing Middle Class, which has stagnated financially, and now is shrinking if not becoming gutted-out. Middle-class wages today are lower, inflation-adjusted, than three decades ago. Worse, a subgroup of middle-class workers as young as 50 who lost their jobs in the Great Recession are cautioned that they may never again be fully employed.
If Wright was alive today and adopted the same creative empathy as he did for Broadacres, he would place a priority on ameliorating the states of these two groups of dispossessed Americans in a contemporary Broadacres. This is not to suggest that a new Broadacres should function as a warehouse for economic unfortunates. After all, even damaged, the middle class is still by far the largest American cohort, and its widespread discomfort and even pain is not something that can be swept under the rug. This is a long-term, probably permanent, mainstream issue.
So. Many middle-class Americans will benefit from specific accommodations and enhanced community features which respond effectively to their diminished financial status. For a contemporary Broadacres, these would be in addition to core directions.
The (comparatively) better-off group, those millions with a full-time job but who have little realistic hope for personal financial improvement, will experience continuously declining buying power over their lives. Relative to middle-class expectations of the 1950s through the 1990s, these Americans face a permanently diminished financial capacity. They do not have a cushion against the unexpected, and are not able to afford the larger, well-appointed house and the full array of discretionary leisure choices broadly enjoyed by the middle class a generation ago.
When Wright observed a similar situation in the 1930s, he compensated in Broadacres by providing public venues for performances and sports; intensified opportunities for social interaction, such as clubhouses; and called for engaging nature-oriented and natural-history attractions like a music garden, an arboretum, and a zoo.
Both in the number of such features and in their collective positive impact on everyday life, Broadacres was unique among suburban-exurban communities of the era. This together with his designs for efficient, light-filled houses and housing, and a vibrant townscape, Wright at least partly mitigated the negatives of a diminished personal horizon.
The subgroup of later-middle-age Americans who have been involuntarily and perhaps permanently put out of work requires additional acknowledgement. Most feel pushed aside and some understandably question their own worth.
So they will appreciate living in an enhanced community, a contemporary Broadacres, both for the uplifting experience itself and also for what they feel such a special community home says about them.
But they also need channels which take advantage of their experience and motivation. This is not a matter of offering opportunities to volunteer, per retirement communities, since they need a dependable income. Because of their background and insights, these "structurally unemployed" might be excellent municipal staff for their own Broadacres community.
The core directions of a contemporary Broadacres build from the 1935 Broadacres governing insights. The overall goal is a healthful, humane, and stimulating community environment.
Nature should be fully, richly integrated throughout the community. This goes far beyond good lot landscaping. The community's development concept should build around natural features; native horticulture should be emphasized; and color, scent, and seasonality should be creatively exploited. Interpretative attractions such as a nature preserve and an astronomical observatory will reinforce the interplay with nature.
Designed elements, especially housing, should architecturally reflect their setting and function. Designs should be efficient, light-filled, and interrelate with nature. Buildings are not necessarily or even ideally, expensive, but all structures and accessories should be of high creative quality, "nothing poor or mean." The townscape is vibrant, cohesive, and visually harmonious. Zoning and building codes are "build-to" rather than "protect-from."
Community fabric is a mosaic with convenient and distinctive multiple centers. Differing land uses are integrated but not mixed. Like ancient cities, Broadacres is mostly low and closely woven, in striking contrast to the high spot densities and leftover spaces characteristic of much contemporary urban development.
Movement is an integral component of the development plan, along with public open space and the street grid. Public transit should prioritize the needs of those without any private transportation, employing the most flexible and cost-effective modes. Trails and pathways should interconnect the community without recourse to streets, and should be positively separated from motorized traffic. Streetscapes and roadsides should be creatively landscaped.
Contemporary Broadacres Guiding Propositions
community-wide diffusion of development patterns is enhanced by establishing and maintaining a harmonious, vibrant community fabric.
informal natural rhythms are more consistent with community character than regimented, formal patterns.
community-wide street/road grids should be engineered from a diffused, network concept rather than from the alternate arterial approach.
public transit is based on a cost-efficient bus system learning from the advanced solutions of Curitiba, Brazil
best current technologies and innovations should be utilized, and encouraged, by the municipality.
local government should focus on providing first-rate public safety, reliable utilities, and humane social services. Demonstrations are more effective than regulation.
there is no distinction between much and little, more and less; all are united by creative quality. The only differences are individuality and extent. There is nothing poor or mean in a contemporary Broadacres.
Contemporary Broadacres Planning Elements
buildings and developments should acknowledge human scale.
housing units should provide a palpable personal domain.
it is unnecessary if not undesirable to provide large house lots. Neighborhood public garden plots are more efficient for home-grown food.
the design of houses and housing should emphasize a superior living experience over style or ornament. Reference Vernon D. Swaback's Production Dwellings as a basis.
new building technologies should be incorporated in housing when they are cost-effective and do not degrade current construction standards. Natural materials should be featured where possible and desirable.
neighborhoods can be creative niche environments rather than generic subdivisions. Such supportive developments are characterized by flexibility and accommodation.
utilities should continuously seek functional improvements, especially where negative environmental impacts can be lessened by doing so.
sense of place is provided by public features and venues. Landscaping and natural settings provide visual context and enhance overall harmony.
All contemporary Broadacres would share locally relevant core directions, guiding propositions, and planning elements.
Even so, contemporary Broadacres would vary in material respects as applied to the widely diverse climates and settings found across the United States.
Throughout temperate California, for instance, Broadacres houses could achieve a high degree of indoor-outdoor living that would not be realistic in, say, colder North Dakota. Similarly, a Broadacres in tropical South Florida would confront unique local situations and possibilities that would be totally unlike those in Colorado.
Alternate contemporary Broadacres would thus experience quite differently, one from the other. Yet all would be mostly low-rise and closely woven, healthful, humane and stimulating community environments.
Revisiting Broadacres offers surprises as well as rewards. Surprise in the realization that Wright the physical planner was solidly mainstream in 1935, and still today. Certainly this is so in the sense that Broadacres acknowledges how a majority of Americans have chosen to live. Wright was a beacon, not a scold. He simply showed us how to be better at what we are trying to accomplish.
Wright was and remains far ahead of most municipalities and property developers. Even three-quarters of a century later, few if any of our suburban and exurban neighborhoods are as vibrant and harmonious as Broadacres promised.
Yet study of Broadacres offers many rewards, especially for developing communities. Wright did some heavy lifting in thinking about and giving form to the American Dream. He offered a new benchmark of a consistent planning philosophy that was at once comprehensive and detailed. And left it to us to equal or surpass his achievements.
Tom Martinson is a director of the Two Worlds Community Foundation. He is author of the Atlas of American Architecture (Rizzoli, 2009) and of the Foundation's civic handbook series, including There's No Such Thing As Identical Twins. Martinson is a city-planning consultant with an international practice based in Minneapolis.