Did Wright Have the Key to a Healthy Lifestyle?
Updated: Apr 19
Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a vision for the American city of the future - a plan for a layout of homes to provide enough acreage, air and light for each resident with an intentional mix of small farmsteads and homes. In 1935, he built and then displayed a model for his concept of Broadacre City where each home was to be associated with a plot of land so that a family could be self-sufficient; granting them great freedom and giving them the ability to grow their own food and practice animal husbandry. His concept challenged the very notion of what a city is; and has been called an "anti-city city". That idea for a decentralized urban community never caught on.
Looking at the world today, where fresh air, outdoor activity and social distancing are at a premium and our densely populated cities are acting as giant Petri dishes in which contagious diseases are able to spread all too rapidly; perhaps it is time to resurrect his model community plan.
For many years, the trend for community planning has been to pack the maximum number of residents together into the lowest amount of land (high density development). Nature and sunlight are provided by common areas such as parks and building rooftops or plazas. Low density (fewer people on more land) community plans have fallen out of favor because they are thought to create undesirable urban sprawl that snarls traffic.
Community planning that leads to a healthier lifestyle via private ownership of small acreage
is possible but requires a pivot in viewpoint, as professional planners are enamored of centralized residential layouts. Currently, high density development concepts like cluster development/conservation design in suburban areas are heavily relied-upon tools. Conservation design planning creates high density living, while providing common spaces that could be community gardens, walking paths or other outdoor spaces. Yet conservation design doesn't usually address or meet the needs of people who want to have some livestock (horses, goats, chickens etc) at home, in a farmette or farmstead (private small acreage).
Concepts of low density development including the use of estate zoning (click here for an example of this zoning type from Florida) are considered outdated, as they are thought to be a less efficient use of remaining available land for development. As a result, there are not many choices for those who wish to live a more rural lifestyle unless they are able to purchase a minimum of forty acres in an agriculturally-zoned and/or protected area or can find of one of the few thoughtfully designed communities that allows for limited agriculture and livestock on under ten acres like The Farms at Mount Ida Reserve in Charlottesville, Va.
So it may be time to take a fresh look at the flexibility of a Broadacre City type model, which allows families to grow their own food on their own plots of land; and leaves the door open for animal owners to have barnyard animals in their backyards. To make way for this type of community, sufficient land, permissive zoning and inclusive comprehensive plans would be necessary. Even though Wright's Broadacre City was thought to be impractical and was largely ignored, he may have been right all along about optimal community design. His residential development vision may well be the key to a healthy lifestyle.