Author: Richard Young
Construction Manager, South Jersey Helical Piers
The next time you are wandering the aisles of your local CVS and you happen to come upon the shelves stocked with shaving products, you might give pause to consider that the recent resurgence of Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier that we are currently experiencing has been thought about before. Actually, not just thought about but meticulously planned and designed by a utopian socialist named King Camp Gillette.
Gillette, inventor of the safety razor published a book in 1894 titled The Human Drift in which he envisioned a gigantic city that encompassed Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester and parts of Ontario, organized for the purpose of producing, manufacturing and distributing the necessities of life. In this, he describes in detail a city where most of the population of the United States (70 million at the time) would live in a massive complex of 250 foot tall octagon shaped apartment buildings. He figured 60 million people would live in the city and the remaining 10 million would either work to supply the raw materials or just hang out at the Jersey Shore. Electric power would be supplied by hydroelectric from Niagara Falls, fresh water would come from Lake Erie and all waste would be pumped into Lake Ontario and (best of all) it would all be free!
The Metropolis would be created in layers and elevated by steel columns with glass floors so all of the utilities, infrastructure and transportation would be above ground, visible and accessible for repair and replacement if need be. There would be no individual cars because no one would need them; only rubber tired carriages and bicycles. Wow!
Gillette also specified building materials for the city that he believed would stand the test of time including steel, brick, glass and glazed tile which would be manufactured in massive factories nearby (but not too near). He especially liked glazed tile because of its ever changing variety of color and design.
Food would be supplied from farms spread across the countryside and shipped in to be prepared in giant kitchens where everyone would congregate for meals. Money would be completely eliminated so the populist could engage in whatever they felt like doing whether it be attending concerts, lectures by great thinkers, art exhibits etc. In King’s view the elimination of money would also eliminate all crime.
So imagine if Gillette’s utopian vision were actually approved and realized. Just about everyone in the entire country living happily together in Western New York with our endless supply of fresh water, electric power, infrequent earthquakes/hurricanes and occasional snow storms? Things would be different. But one thing is for sure; our current crop of urban planners can benefit from thinkers like Gillette even if his industrial age mind set and socialist urbanism is distasteful to public opinion, at least he gave it a shot.
To see an edited version of Gillette’s The Human Drift by Professor John W. Reps of Cornell University go to urbanplanning.library.cornell.edu/DOCS/gillette.htm.