Roadtown Solves Problem of Living

We’ve covered other un-built schemes to reach from New York to Boston. This one, from the brain of inventor, Edgar Chambless  reached new visionary heights.

Chambless, who lost his job and savings in a financial panic–this one in 1898–had come to sit on top of a hill in Los Angeles to think.

Chambless seems to have had a knack for coming up with uses for unwanted and unused items. Considering the ground beneath him, he concluded it was only worthless because it was so hard to get to. Moving back east to New York, where little land in the city lacks activity or exhorbitant property values, Chambless took a ride on the subway and another seed was planted.

Working in the patent office going through hundreds of abandoned ideas, he writes, true to form:

I began to dream of new conditions in which some of these shelved inventions might be utilized to ease the burden of life for mankind. One plan after another was abandoned until the idea occurred to me to lay the modern skyscraper on its side and run the elevators and pipes horizontally instead of vertically.

Chambless called this structure Roadtown. He imagined that, not having to deal with the physics at work on tall buildings, Roadtowns could extend for thousands of miles. He proposed a monorail running below to transport residents and a bikepath along the roof (also available to roller-skaters). Like any good utopian plan of the era, Chambless planned for shared housework, with fresh meals delivered from a central kitche by train, and a central laundry. Other featured would let residents engage in gardening or light manufacturing in their spare time.

Hi 1910 book on Roadtown got a buzz of press. The New York World noted in its oddly-named article ‘Solving Problem of Living’:

A Roadtown man may work at a machine till his eyes and fingers are tired, and then go out and feed the chickens. This is the idea industrial life for which the philosophers of all ages have have striven but which is becoming more and more impossible under our present scheme of civilization.

Chambless announced he was ready to work with the first bidders proposing a practical site. He thought a logical starting place for a Roadtown could run the Bronx to the city of Boston.

More reading: The entire Roadtown, by Edgar Chambless, 1910 is on Google Books. A quick run through some other linear city proposals also found here.


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