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Linear City

Designers everywhere are eyeing the Interstate Highway system's bounteous and boundless real estate with ideas from tiny turbines to maglev rail lines. Mid-century urban idealism may not be dead after all.

Urban planning illustration

In December of 1965, Life magazine published a special issue titled “The U.S. City: Its Greatness Is at Stake.”  The upshot was that America’s cities were on a “suicidal” course and bold new ideas would be needed to revive them. One such idea was the “linear city,” a structure that might be a mile wide and as much as 20 miles long containing every possible urban function. The version Life presented, illustrated with a cross section that made it look like a feverish ant farm, was cooked up by an uncredited team of Princeton professors that included the not-yet-famous Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves. Called the Jersey Corridor Project, it consisted of two parallel strips, one for industry and the other “a nearly endless ‘downtown’ of homes, shops, services” with highways in the basement, running like a ribbon through an otherwise pristine natural landscape.

The Jersey Corridor Project was not the first linear proposal. The earliest dates from 1882, when Spanish planner Arturo Soria y Mata envisioned a 30-mile-long city built along a Madrid tramline. Subsequent proposals inclu-ded Roadtown, Edgar Chambless’s dream of a skinny city following a railroad line, and Le Corbusier’s unbuilt 1930s scheme for Algiers that stacked highways atop housing leading to the suburbs. There’s actually a whiff of the linear city in New York, where four apartment blocks straddle the highway leading to the George Washington Bridge. In 1967, then-mayor John Lindsay was quite serious about building another one through Brooklyn:

A five-and-a-half-mile-long dense community was to be erected atop the under-construction Cross-Brooklyn Expressway. At the time, even the steadfastly sensible critic Ada Louise Huxtable supported the plan: “It almost seems to be in the cards, logically and inevitably…You can’t outlaw the 20th century.”

Predictably, Lindsay’s linear city was killed by the state legislature in Albany in 1969. It seems the concept more or less vanished with it. Except for one thing: Our Interstate Highway System, nearly 47,000 miles of it, is, by default, a linear city, longer than any wild-eyed visionary ever dreamed possible. In the development and population centers that have glommed on to the interstate over the years, you’ll see a messy, free-form version of what those 1960s planners were advocating. But what if we reexamined the interstate system and began to view it as a prospective place, one where people might want to live or work, or at least linger for longer than the ten minutes it takes to fill up the tank?

Lately, architects, planners, and inventors have taken notice of the highway system’s roughly two million acres of untapped capacity. The pioneers in this kind of thinking may have been the kids in San Diego who, in the 1990s,carved the Washington Street Skate-park from a no-man’s land beneath I-5. Now power companies are waking up to the highway’s possibility as a site for renewable energy, and designers have begun to see the potential of this vast reservoir of infrastructure and open space. After all, you can’t outlaw the 21st century.

  • Mag Luv, Osborn’s plan to supplant L.A.’s perennially snarled freeways.

    Mag Luv

    “Roads are very interesting things for planners,” notes Katherine Harvey, a landscape and urban designer at the Glendale, California–based firm Osborn.

  • On the Harlem River waterfront, Dongsei Kim and Jamieson Fajardo’s PUMP (Purifying Urban Modular Parasite) acts like a lung, filtering the air and noise that emanate from the Bronx’s Major Deegan Expressway, allowing improvements like pedestrian access an

    The PUMP

    For much of its length, the 8.5-mile Major Deegan Expressway, located in the Bronx (and named for architect William F. Deegan), obstructs the Harlem River waterfront, an uninviting jumble of light industry and truck parking.

  • A Rhode Island School of Design studio proposed reconfiguring I-95 to accommodate more uses than driving. Illustration by G.E. Byun/Prof. Acciavatti.

    Friends of the Future

    Anthony Acciavatti taught a studio at the Rhode Island School of Design last year in which students focused on rethinking rest areas along I-95, the highway that runs nearly 2,000 miles along the East Coast from Florida to Maine.

  • In Oregon, solar installations have begun to appear along the interstate rights-of-way.

    The Green Roadway

    “It’s a billboard of hope for our children,” declares Gene Fein, a Malibu, California–based inventor who is marketing a suite of technologies, dubbed the Green Roadway, which is intended to transform highway rights-of-way into power plants. is your online home in the modern world. Join us as we follow our team around the globe on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Want more? Never miss another word of Dwell with our free iTunes app.


I can attest to the vast emptiness of I-5 and completely agree that it would be more efficient to build linear cities. Why should the notion of city stop America from building an infrastructure that accommodates its terrain type? The only potential problem I foresee is a domino-type effect with that long, drafted building in the case of an earthquake.

Save your time and energy.

Just because the land seems useless, it is that way for a reason. There is no demand for intensification of use, and if there is the highway adjacency kills it anyway. Nodes of activity need critical mass and density of interconnectedness that linear forms cannot reach.

I like your project.
BTW, the above website contains my linear city project.

A Mile wide city 150,000 miles long or 2 parallel 1 mile cities 75,000 miles long would support the entire population of U.S. giving each individual 10,000 square feet of space with a population density of about 2,400 people per square mile. Imagine the mainland of the U.S. gridded out with intersections north and south,east and west, every 100 miles. All connected via high speed rail and mono-rail, [ CARS {REALLY !! } ]. Centrally trunked water, power, waste, etc.. Node locations at all intersections. Efficiency, conservationalism and community driven, all reasons not to wait , all reasons not to save our time and energy. I would suggest the actual design to follow the fractal geometry of the landscape note highways!

Of course build linear cities! There are so many reasons we should, it is hard to believe we have not already done so. A single paragraph here does not do justice to the argument for building linear cities. After nearly 35 years of thought and multiple evolutions of our website, I still believe there is no way gridlocked cities will ever be able to compete with a properly built linear city. Please -- check out our website if you do not believe this is true!

Since 1979 I was interesting in solving urgent ecological problems of our times. I did develop a project that offers the means by which major corrective action may be undertaken. The way we live is a major source of pollution The Gauthier Linear City’s project aims at solving urgent ecological and social problems that have to be dealt with quickly in order to avoid potential degradations that would bring irreversible consequences.

His progressive implementation encourage the gradual elimination of major pollution sources by the use, among others, of a public transportation system more efficient than the automobile, and by reducing by up to 95% the global utilization of available land, thus increasing considerably our quality of life.
Specifically, there are serious problems that must be addressed and need to be acted upon to avoid eventual degradations with irreversible consequences for the next generations…that is why we offer this solution.
For more information visit : .

Please do not hesitate to call us should you require more information or documents.

Best regards,

Gilles Gauthier