Was there a major plan to decentralise the USA in the 50s or 60s?

I once browsed through an architectural book that seemed to be about a huge project to build new towns and infrastructure and re-think the entire concept of how to service and distribute the population of North America*. Possibly to make it more robust in case of a nuclear attack, or maybe they just wanted a lot of fancy new futuristic buildings.

Google would probably turn something up if I had a clue what to look for.

Anyone have any idea what I’m describing?

*or maybe the whole western world, they weren’t thinking small.

You may have read it in a book, but that doesn’t make it Cafe Society material.

I’m therefore moving it to the forum called “General Quesions” since you seem to be looking for a factual response (locating the book or the concept.)

Are you perhaps thinking of the 1940’s-'50s suburban developments called Levittowns?

Damn, I wish I hadn’t lost my copy of Expanded Universe…

Apparently the US commisioned studies to determine how expensive it would be to decentralize the US, that is, spread the Population a little more evenly across the US.

This would also have included breaking up and spreading out the industrial centers.

The concern seemed to be that with a very very limited number of strikes, the USSR could cripple the US, economically and industrially. A Nuke of LA, New York, Chicago, Detroit and a few other key industrial cities would indeed have crushed our economy and our industrial capacity, at least in the short term.

I’m gonna yell his name (FENRIS!) in the hopes that he pulls a vanity search and can pull up the name of the guy that did the report out of Expanded Universe.

I believe the end result was that not only would it have costed billions and billions of 1950’s-1960’s dollars, but it would have pretty much destroyed the American way of life. So they decided against it.

First thing I thought of, too.

Heinlein mentioned it in passing as a nonworkable solution–in order for L.A. to be rendered not-so-vulnerable to nuclear attack, the “city” would need to get spread out so that it covered most of the southern half of California. The SF Bay Area would get the same sort of treatment, and spread out to cover most of Northern California.

States that had more than a couple major urban centers would be out of luck; however, one assumes that Montana, Texas, the Dakotas and Canada would be available to take up the slack.

just kidding about the Canada part, btw…

O.K., I’ve got my copy of Robert Heinlein’s Expanded Universe here, and the essay in it that sounds closest to what you’re talking about is “The Last Days of the United States.” He talks about how someone named Sumner Spaulding proposed that if all the large cities of the U.S. were as spread out as Los Angeles is, the U.S. wouldn’t be as vulnerable to attacks using Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. It would cost $250 billion (at that time, using that person’s calculations) to spread out all the cities of the U.S. to that amount. Heinlein says that that wouldn’t be much help, since the atomic bombs used in any World War III situation would be much bigger that Hiroshima-sized. He says that it would be necessary to spread out the cities far more than that to be less vulnerable to the size of atomic bombs that would actually be used. Basically, it would be absurdly difficult to spread out the U.S. to the extent really required. Besides, that doesn’t even take into account the spread of radioactivity by winds which would pretty much wipe out everything anyway.

One might note that suburbanization in the U.S. from the 1940’s to the 1970’s did end up spreading out cities to some extent, though not nearly as much as was proposed by Spaulding. The U.S. is to some extent more spread out now than it was in the 1940’s. We’re paying for it in imported oil costs too.

There was never any official, semi-official, or proposed plan to disperse the population from any governmental organization. I very much doubt that a notion to disperse the population ever arose from any architectural or urban planning group either.

Just the opposite. Every book written in the 1950s and 1960s about population absolutely slammed the new sprawling suburbs that the automobile had created. Every urban planner was calling for less dispersal and higher densities.

I’ve read 40 years of such books and I can’t ever remember anyone realistically calling for the population to be more spread out than it was becoming naturally.

There were some plans like Paolo Soleri’s arcology, which called for self-sustaining cities in a dense three-dimensional setting (often pyramids). Soleri was a tireless proselytizer and his notions gained wide publicity, so you were likely to have read about them in a book. All the more so since his notions had nothing to do with reality, so they were perfect for anyone to impose their own fantasies of the future upon.

Beyond that there have been dozens of books with dozens of pretty drawings by dozens of artists who fancied themselves urbanologists projecting futures that were as likely to come true as a 1933 Amazing Stories cover. All were forgotten as soon as they hit print, so identifying any single one would be difficult without many more clues,

In Isaac Asimov’s 1957 robotics short story “Let’s Get Together,” he posits a near-future ongoing Cold War (the enemy is described only as “Them,” but could fairly be assumed to still be the Soviets). In the story, the U.S. government (although not the entire population) is much more decentralized, with various departments purposefully based outside of Washington, D.C. This was intended to make the Feds less vulnerable to enemy attack.

That may be true but from the little I remember about it the people who put together this pbook seemed to have entirely serious intentions, that is not Sci-fi (like that silly arcology thing) but genuine real-world concepts allbeit a bit wacky. The book was just a way of publishing their “research” it gave the impression that there had been, or still was, a great deal of work put into the project. Not just collecting a lot of futuristic pictures (though it’s possible that’s all it was really).

That’s hard since I only ever saw it once over ten years ago, like I said I would do some Googling but I don’t know where to start, any ideas?

It had hundreds of illustrations, renderings of proposed buildings, architectural designs, city layouts, blueprints. All fairly formal looking, not like a cover of Amazing Stories at all. Also essays on how all the alternative way of having people live/work/travel would function in society (I said they weren’t thinking small).

The format of the book was odd, it was only about five inches tall but very wide. Sorry that’s all I have. I should have just bought the thing, I’ve never seen anything like it since.

Honestly, this describes all of them. And they all were “sci-fi” whether they thought so or not - and the term is a horrible denigration of sf writers, since they often put in much more thought into their projects that the people with “serious intentions.”

I’m perhaps the only professional science fiction writer who’s done graduate work in urban studies, so I have a weirdly unique perspective on this. And not a favorable one, as must be obvious.

Well, we can certainly be grateful that didn’t happen. :stuck_out_tongue:

You might be thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City proposals, first in 1935 and revised in the 50s to include futuristic elements such as flying saucers.

Some Googling would indicate the most likely Sumner Spaulding was an architect and at one point was the City Planner for Los Angeles.


This is a bit afield from the OP, but in the 1970’s a plan was floated to restructure the U.S. into 38 states that were more equal in size. I remember reading about it as a kid.

Nice plan, but some of the names need retooling. One assumes the Illinois-Michigan rustbelt wouldn’t willingly rename itself Dearborn. And Prairie is a pretty nondescript name for a chunk of Iowa and Illinois surrounded by millions of square miles of…prairie. They’d almost be better off calling it Nondescript.

Where can I find some of your work?


Yuo can find a lot of my work here.

I feel sad. I wanted to read some of your stories and/or novels. But I guess that is being denied to me. And I’m not sure why. :frowning:

Exapno … I’d send you private email but you have that option disabled.

I’m currently working on a game design project that touches on urban design. If you wouldn’t mind I’d like to ask you a few questions. I’m particularly interested in the influence that Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City had on subsequent urban design theory and it seems like you might be a good person to ask about that.

If you’re interested, my email is in my profile.


Same reason I always give. If I tell you my real name, I’m no longer anonymous. And what fun would that be?