Published by Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at University of Greenwich, London

Atomurbia: 1946

As proposals go, Atomurbia has to be perhaps one of the most farfetched I have ever come across. In the late 40s and early 50s, the world, and in particular the US, was in constant worry over the threat of nuclear war. Urban planners and architects alike, came up with many solutions for this perceived threat. Out of all of them, Atomurbia, dreamed up by William Ogburn, an American Sociologist, was the most incredible of them all. It was published in the August 1950 edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Essentially, the idea was to dissipate American cities with populations of 50,000 or more into newly-built communities laid out across the American landscape. The thinking behind it was if there were to be a nuclear attack, having spread out the population, industry, and agriculture, the losses would be greatly reduced. These new towns were laid out in a very strict grid like formation, and evenly distribute industry, agriculture, and energy. As a proposal designed to cope with the threat of nuclear war, this idea of Urban dispersal is both bizarre and impractical. These were intelligent people, seriously proposing breaking up some of the largest cities in the world and spreading them out across the American landscape. They proposed to rehouse over 20 million people, and any new transport links would be put underground. The estimated cost of this project was 200 billion at the time (1947), which is around 5 trillion dollars today. With all this in mind, the project was planned to be completed in under 10 years.


Of course this project was never even considered, and is today ridiculed in articles all over the internet. However, it was seriously considered by some 50 years ago, and perhaps rightly so. If a country was really facing a nuclear war, then surely every attempt possible would be made to protect its population, even if that meant completely restructuring the fabric of social and economic life.


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