The first history of Radburn, NJ examines 20th-century ideas of land use and development
Garden Cities for America
The Radburn Experience
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Lewis Mumford asserted in the early 1960s that Radburn, a community in Bergen County, New Jersey, was "the most forward step in town planning since Venice." Radburn's harmonious blending of private space and open area have established it as a touchstone in the history of professional planning. An offshoot of the English garden city movement, Radburn represented an attempt to transplant those turn-of-the-century concepts into the post-World War I American landscape. Beyond improving the physical environment, Radburn's designers were also engaging in social planning. They wanted to control the automobile and promote face-to-face interaction and participatory democracy.
This book is the fisrt history of the development of the Radburn idea and its concrete realization in Bergen County. What is at the center of Dr. Schaffer's work is the intriguing dialectic between the "Radburn idea" and the Radburn community. These two closely related histories tell us a lot about political and social reform in the late 1920s and also provide valuable insights into the process of twentieth-century land use and development.
After looking at the European roots of the Radburn idea, the author examines the Association of America in the establishment of Radburn. He also analyzes the economic dimensions of the Radburn plan, focusing on the City Housing Corporation, which financed the community's construction and was defunct, a victim of the Depression, by 1933. The unraveling of the ideaand the uneasy relations between theory and community lifeoccupy much of the book.
People continue to live in Radburn, although they do not think of it as a planning milestone. What is important about Radburn today may be what it can teach us about building stable cmmunities in a system that breeds instability.
Daniel Schaffer, Historian for the Tennessee Valley Authority's Cultural Resources Program, previously was Project Director of the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission's Metropolitan American and of the Radburn at 50 Project.