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The Heritage of Iconic Planned Communities: The Challenges of Change

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Associate Professor John Pittari has contributed a chapter to The Heritage of Iconic Planned Communities: The Challenges of Change, an upcoming book from the University Of Pennsylvania Press.  The chapter, “Shared Space and Shared Lives: The Common Legacy and Divergent Experiences of Community Life in Sunnyside Gardens and Radburn,” explores the historic and contemporary records of Radburn, New Jersey and Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, New York.  These iconic planned communities share a close heritage, and the chapter highlights similarities and differences in their initial conceptions and subsequent experiences.Planned Communities research—John Pittari

Planned Communities research by John PittariDeveloped consecutively under the close direction of the architect-planner team of Clarence Stein and Henry Wright in the 1920s, Sunnyside Gardens and Radburn were practical experiments to realize the “garden city” ideal in America.  Both embodied innovative combinations of spatial arrangements and legal instruments as the foundation for their innovative master plans; and large-scale production measures, financing mechanisms and real estate development practices as the basis of their implementation and management.  As products of the Progressive Era, the individuals involved also believed firmly that the physical design of a development could influence and, in fact, encourage the creation of a social community among the residents.  Thus, while Sunnyside Gardens and Radburn have significantly different physical arrangements, they both use a common framework of shared open space as their major formative element and primary intended means of community building.

Over the course of their nearly ninety-year lifetimes, these two neighborhood communities have substantively sustained their character in the face of change—though in quite differing degrees and manners.  Considered separately or as a pair, these two iconic planned communities have clearly been, and remain today, meaningful places for their inhabitants—as well as valuable real estate properties that command a premium in comparison to their surroundings.  The conceptual foundation (the Radburn Idea) has, of course, been disseminated broadly throughout the world and has influenced the nature of new towns in this country and abroad.