Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Riverside Illinois in 1869. Their design included curving residential streets with large lots for detached houses. Land-uses in Riverside were strictly segregated with a small area near its central train stop being reserved for commercial and multi-family homes. The rest of the town was the exclusive province of large-lot single family homes. Riverside was designed as a commuter community. It was detached and insulated from nearby Chicago. It intentionally excluded places of work while emphasizing places of residence. Much is written about Olmsted's beautiful landscape design and Riverside continues to be a lovely town. But what's interesting to me is that Riverside could serve as a template for almost any higher income suburb built in the United States from the 1910s onward. The Riverside design became the preferred design for automobile suburbs, especially those for the wealthy. But Riverside was designed and established decades before the spread of the automobile. When lots in Riverside first went on sale, the only way of getting around town was walking and by horse and carriage. The only option for commuting into Chicago was a single train line. The houses were so spread apart that only a small percentage of the lots were within a short walk to the train station. Possibly for this reason, lots sold slowly at first. Riverside's build-out was slow. Lots were still available for development in the 1920s. Olmsted probably didn't anticipate automobiles but I think the time-line of Riverside's design and development is peculiar in light of the development of transportation options. Riverside seems much more significant in the history of suburban design, to me, than the more frequently cited Garden City movement which didn't begin until Riverside was in its 30s. Today, Riverside is a wealthy tranquil suburb. Its winding tree lined streets would likely please Olmsted if he were alive. Riverside's dependence on auto commuting might surprise him. The tower in the photos above and below was built to pressurize Riverside's innovative water system.
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