5. California City
While this is a city that you can visit, you will never see its original plan fulfilled. Nat Mendelsohn was a developer who had a dream of developing a city that would rival Los Angeles in terms of grandeur. He ambitiously began building on a 320 square kilometer piece of land in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert complete with a huge park and artificial lake. If one were to look at a satellite picture of the city it may seem like Mendelsohn had at least come close to realizing his dream. However, if you are to look closer you would notice something conspicuously missing – houses.
Although hundreds of streets, complete with cul-de-sacs, crisscross in one continuous, gigantic grid, the network is just one, prodigious ghost town. But at least ghost towns have structures; these streets are lined with absolutely nothing, not even a telephone pole. It kind of looks like an intricate crop circle mysteriously made in the middle of the desert or threadbare hiking paths run amok twisting through the dirt and sand.
Mendelsohn had the same idea as many real estate developers of the time. He would buy a vast amount of land, divide it into thousands of home plots, then sell them to families who longed for a piece of property to call their own. The gamble did not pay off for him however, because 50 years later decaying streets still lie there empty. One reason is that dust storms are a common occurrence in the area, but he mainly overestimated demand.
The city is not empty though. It has a population of roughly 14,000 people comprising a small town. The entire town, however, only takes up a small corner on the outskirts of the boundless, barren grid. Although it’s a town with services, it will never be a large city the likes of Los Angeles that Nat Mendelsohn conceptualized.
4. Minnesota Experimental City
The Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) was the brainchild of a private partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Federal Government in the 1960s and would be intentionally open to observation and evaluation by urban studies experts. Like its name suggests, the city would be a combination of experimental ideas never before tried on such a large scale.
The city would accommodate about 250,000 people, and it would focus on open spaces such as parks, farms, and wilderness. Only one sixth of the area would be paved and the city would be partially covered by a geodesic dome (designed by Buckminster Fuller). This design is extraordinarily strong, is hurricane and tornado proof, and is widely used today. The city would be car-free, with cars parked at the edge and people-movers whisking people into the center of the city. A futuristic and highly advanced automated highway system, in which magnetic, driverless cars were used, would connect people to the outside world.
Perhaps the most drastic and controversial departure from conventional cities was that there would be no schools. Instead, the practice of lifelong learning would be practiced. Lifelong learning states that everyone is a teacher as well as a student and that education takes place through social interactions, observations, and joining groups and clubs among other things.
Budgetary problems as well as logistics quashed the city’s groundbreaking.
Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital Germania) was to be the jewel of the Third Reich. Adolph Hitler, unmatched in his hubris, was convinced that Germany would become the center of Europe, and perhaps the world, and had begun to plan his capital city, which was a rebuilt Berlin, even before World War II began. His goal was to exceed the quality and splendor of other world capitals such as London, Paris, and Washington D.C.
Plans for this grandiose city included a stadium that could house 400,000 spectators, a Chancellery with a lavish hall twice as long as the one at the Palace of Versailles, the Triumphal Arch (based on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but much, much larger), and a giant open square to be surrounded by large government buildings. The centerpiece of the new city would be the Volkshalle, or People’s Hall, which would include a humongous domed building designed by Hitler himself and chief architect Albert Speer. If this domed building was built it would still today be the largest enclosed space in the world, being sixteen times larger than the dome at St. Peter’s.
Even though the War began before construction could begin and put a halt to commencing building, all the necessary land was acquired and engineering plans were developed. Hitler’s plan was to win the war, finish construction on Welthauptstadt, hold an extravagant World’s Fair there in 1950, then retire. Needless to say, the crushing of the Nazi regime and Third Reich at the hands of Allied forces put an end to the future of the great city.
One humorous aspect of the planning of Welthauptstadt is that the marshy-like ground of Berlin never could have supported the monstrous structures Hitler wanted as the showpieces of his city.
2. Seward’s Success
A planned city across the bay from Anchorage, Alaska, the name was a reversal on “Seward’s Folly” which was the name bestowed on the transaction that Secretary of State William Seward made when he purchased Alaska from Russia. It was to be a city unlike any in the world.
First and foremost, it was to have a colossal, glass dome covering it which made it completely climate controlled. The city would have amenities for 400,000 citizens including a sports arena, mall, schools, and petroleum center. Transportation would be quite innovative and included moving sidewalks and an aerial cable car line that would shuttle people around the city and to nearby Anchorage. Skylights and large windows would give people the sense of openness but would not compromise the climate-controlling properties of the dome. Cars would be nonexistent inside because it was a city “for people, not cars”, and all energy used in the city would be provided mostly by natural gas. Later, plans called for a subway under the bay that would also lead to Anchorage.
Failure to make lease payments on the land, and the impracticality of it all, ensured that Seward’s Success would, in the end, not be such a success.
No, this was not an insincere idea concocted by someone just to garner attention. Back in the 50s it was the dream of one man who doggedly fought to make it an actuality. It was to be a resort city completely centered around the culture of drinking, where alcohol would be embraced, loved, and revered.
Mel Johnson loved to drink. As a young man he traveled the world to see the great drinking cities: Dublin, New York, Havana, Rio, Barcelona, New Orleans, and Paris. But the drinking culture of these cities just wasn’t enough for him; he wanted something more. He was a very intelligent man who dropped out of Harvard University and served in the armed forces, but after World War II he had his epiphany and set out to create BoozeTown.
His city would be comprised of dozens upon dozens of bars and nightclubs, all with different themes. He was meticulous in his planning and fleshed out every detail. Street names would allude to alcohol, such as Gin Lane, Bourbon Boulevard, and 21st Amendment Ave; there would be a moving sidewalk and an electric trolley system which would help escort staggering drunks home (or to another bar); much of the alcohol would be brewed or distilled inside the town which would produce revenue; every bar and liquor store would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; drinks would be allowed everywhere, even banks and places of worship; the city would have its own currency, BoozeBucks; there would be a police force, the Party Police, but instead of harassing drinkers they would be there to assist them; the BoozeTown Bugle would keep citizens abreast of the current news; and no children would be allowed inside. There would be a big daycare just outside city limits for visitors. Johnson figured that the permanent populace would consist of “retirees, artists, and goof-offs”, people who wouldn’t be responsible for children in the first place. He believed that famous artists, writers, and actors would in time flock to the city to live. In the middle of the city would be a towering building shaped like a martini glass in which Johnson would have his home and headquarters.
He scouted out areas for BoozeTown, such as somewhere in Middle America, northern Nevada, and an island off of the western coast of Mexico. Johnson had money from the death of his wealthy father but he needed much more capital and held numerous, lavish fundraisers in order to raise it. He printed up a plethora of trinkets such as maps, postcards, and matchbooks with BoozeTown’s logo on them to help persuade investors. At times, he believed he had enough money and set various opening dates for his city. However, very few people were actually serious about ponying up the money Johnson needed. This, added to the fact that he was acting increasingly more erratic and eccentric, and that the press was vilifying him, basically ended his dream of BoozeTown. In 1960 he gave up on the dream and was later committed to a hospital and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He died just a few years later.