Roadtown: Utopian Future?

Posted on October 3, 2019

by Faith S

Roadtown at first glance seems like wild imaginings from a child that never could have gone as far as it did. Roadtown, found in a February 1919 article in The Ladies Home Journal is a utopian living situation that Edgar Chambless designed in the hopes that one day it would come to life. Roadtown is a fantastical apartment building built on top of an underground train system that stretches linearly across the countryside.

Starting in the basement, Roadtown is built on a train system that would shuttle its occupants to other stations in the linear housing complex as well as haul supplies dwellers would need to survive. The basement also houses all utilities needed to keep the complex going, such as electrical, sewer, heat, air, and other important conveniences.

The floors above will be housing units similar to apartments in which everything is typical, bedrooms, kitchens, and other rooms; however, there is a system of dumbwaiters that deliver mail, packages, goods, prepared food, and other supplies to apartments. Chambless also thought that this area would be able to house community areas such as kitchens, laundries, and other forms of services that would benefit the public who wish to have more luxury and service in the home rather than serving themselves.

Finally, the rooftop space provides children with a place to play without the dangers of cars. The roof is used as an open-air walkway where the occupants can ride bikes to the neighboring units or use to get exercise. This area could house a community garden, or even hold community entertainment places for sport and recreation.

Chambless’s wacky building plan may seem at first glance like a great idea or maybe you are gasping in horror at how awful that would be. Either way, his plans found briefly in the article and more in depth in his book, Roadtown, have influenced the way we live today. Chambless’s designs were adapted into many famous architect’s plans and can be found in a lot of our major U.S cities. Many of his plans were talked about during his time of trying to get Roadtown approved by the government to stretch from coast to coast; however, it never happened. There were a number of factors that stopped Roadtown from becoming a reality: the cost would have been too great, the mechanics of the train system stopping so often at close spaced stations was never fully thought through, the noise of trains polluting the occupants’ living spaces above was an issue, and the limitations of the technology during the early 1900s would have been unable to make his dream reality.

Now-a-days Chambless’s dream would be possible as subway systems are more efficient, and bullet trains are faster than ever. Creating systems in which these trains could function underground quiet enough for people to live atop of them would be simple, the technology is more advanced, and the energy savings and production initiatives would be feasible. The project was revived briefly in the 1970’s but was quickly tabled as the idea was thought of as being too utopian and fanciful. While Chambless never got to see Roadtown become a reality, perhaps in the not too distant future the utopian living situations described in Roadtown will become the way we choose to live and design our future cities of America.


“But Here Is a House You Haven’t Seen”. The Ladies Home Journal, XXXVI, No. 2, Feb 1919, pp. 121.

To access the full-text of this article or the book referenced in it, visit or contact your local Library.

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Featured Image Credit: Image by JAKO5D from Pixabay.

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