I do not know for what the checker-board street pattern was planned. Perhaps for the horse and buggy. Perhaps for the convenience of the engineer. Perhaps for the handiness of the 25- by 100-foot lot. Perhaps it just happened. At any rate it is the conventional and usual pattern for streets in our American towns. Its relation to the pattern for park lands is usually incidental.
In Radburn, to be planned deliberately for the motor age, two things were chiefly to be desired: First, the maximum convenience for the use of the motor car for business and pleasure; and, second, the reduction to the minimum of the dangers attendant upon such use. Consideration for the health and happiness of the people who were to live in the houses also brought the problem of the provision of park spaces into the foreground.
To a town, the street system is both the skeleton and the circulatory system. The street itself has many functions, above, beneath and on its surface. But aside from drainage, its principal surface functions are three in number. Two of these are ancient, classic and first to come to mind when one hears the word "street." They are the functions of traffic - traffic awheel and traffic afoot. Usually we separate the parts of the street devoted to these two functions; run a raised ribbon along either side of the street, call it a sidewalk, and devote it to foot traffic; pave the wider strip in the middle and devote it to wheeled traffic; however, mingling the two at intersections some sixteen or eighteen times in a mile. When urban land is intensively used, the surface of the street has a third important function, and we have found no way to separate a part of the street for this new use. It spills over the sidewalk and the roadway.' It is play. Play in the streets is dangerous to children and an impediment to wheeled traffic and the attempt to use the same space for both brings tragic consequences into thousands of American homes every year.
At Radburn, in its residential portions, the planners have redistributed the functions of the street, they have made a new segregation of street space, and they have rearranged the relation of street space to park space.
Essentially the scheme is based on the use of a unit which, for lack of a better name, we call the super-block. The super-block consists of a central core of open park land rimmed by a public street devoted entirely to foot traffic or play, this core being surrounded by a series of lanes or culs-de-sac, short streets devoted entirely to wheel traffic, closed at the interior end, but open to and connecting at the outer end with the wide highway which surrounds the whole super-bloc and which is again devoted exclusively to wheel traffic.
The houses are grouped around the lanes, so that each house fronts upon two streets, one a relatively wide street for wheel traffic and the other a quite narrow street for foot traffic. The great motor highway surrounding the whole super-block sends its tributary streets inward toward, but not to, the park core; the footway rimming the park sends its tributary sidewalks out to the outer rim.
The central park core and its rimming footway send out arms to the boundary, and there the footway and a ribbon of parkway dive under the motor highway through an underpass to connect with the park and footway system of the next super-block.
In this manner the footways and the motorways are quite separated. Groups of these super-blocks in their turn will center about a school and playfield as the focal point, and to this school and playfield any child may walk from his home in comfort and in entire safety, so far as the threat of the motor car is concerned. And yet each house has its motor street, too, and most of them have a garage built into the house, as much a part of the house as the dining room.
This means that instead of grouping the park lands according to any usual manner, they have been distributed throughout the residential parts of the town.
The effect may be observed from the angle of the householder. He has two fronts to his house. One gives upon a public street dedicated to the municipality and devoted to wheel travel. The other opens upon a public street, also dedicated to the municipality, and devoted to foot travel. He will not be, in any case, farther away than four hundred feet from the principal motor highway. And he will not be farther away, in any case, than four hundred feet from a park. The closer he is to one the farther away he is from the other, of course, but it is never more than four hundred feet.
If for any reason his child plays away from his own yard, whether for companionship, for leadership, or just for fun, the child has a place to play in the park and on the footway where no motor vehicle can menace him. If he plays in the motor street and gets run over, it will not be because no other place has been provided for him.
I am bold enough to predict that the planners in Radburn have opened the way for a revival of pedestrianism as a pleasant form of exercise. Think of taking a walk in town to-day - step down from this curb, wait a minute for the traffic signal to change or else dart out amongst the speeding cars, up on the curb on the other side, and then repeat, sixteen or eighteen times a mile at each intersection. In Radburn one will be able to take a walk, say in another year, and stroll for some miles on a sidewalk without ever stepping down from a curb or up onto a curb and with- out ever being in a place where a motor car can be - and all the time on a public street lighted by public lighting but bordering not a wheel-traffic roadway but a park.
Fig. 75. - An attractive group of houses at Radburn planned and spaced for sunshine, ventilation, and attractiveness. (Designed by Clarence S. Stein; Richard Averill Smith, photographer.)
That such a radical departure from the conventional street pattern had an interesting effect on house design follows as a matter of course. The house has two fronts, no back. It has two front yards, no back yards. It has two principal entrances - a motor entrance and a pedestrian entrance. These things have improved the opportunity for designing small houses in groups for the wider vision and at the same time have added to the opportunity for design for each house seen as a single unit. That the architects and builders already have taken advantage of many of these new opportunities for the moderate priced houses that have been built in Radburn is evident to the visitor at the first glance.
This new street and park pattern has justified itself also on the score of economy as well as with respect to safety, convenience and beauty. The scheme requires less land for the streets than the conventional checkerboard and the land thus saved goes far toward providing the park space. The grouping of the houses tends to shorten the lines of the utilities, thus introducing further economies, so that we may say that the new pattern saves rather than spends.
Fig. 76. - Here are the rear views of the Radburn houses, or what is termed the "lane side" of the houses. (Clarence Stein, architect; Richard Averill Smith, photographer.)