Detroit: Linear City
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI, USA
In 1930 Nikolai Miliutin in the Soviet Union put forward a utopian plan for a linear industrial city - later taken up by Le Corbusier in the 1940s. Neither Miliutin nor Le Corbusier seems to have realized that such a linear city was actually being built - in Detroit - with Albert Kahn as its most prominent designer. Located where major rail lines run parallel to major highways out from the city into still-rural suburban areas, the Detroit linear cities represent the characteristic urban morphology at Detroit's apogee from 1930 to 1970. They bring together linear systems of production and assembly at three scales: (1) the scale of the Midwest mega-region, with its then incomparable centers of heavy industry and networks of rail and water transportation; (2) the scale of the Detroit metropolis, which functioned as an interconnected locus of production; and (3) the scale of the individual plant, organized around its linear production line.
The paper will identify the defining linear city as the "Mound Road linear city" running north from Kahn's 1930 Plymouth plant located at the key intersection of the Michigan Central main line and the Detroit Terminal Railroad (an industrial beltline that connected the key industrial sites in the city). The other major plants along this linear city included Kahn's Detroit Truck Assembly plant (1938); Kahn's Hudson Naval Ordinance Plant (1941); and Kahn's Detroit Tank Arsenal (1941). During World War II, Hitler conquered Europe with 5,000 tanks; the Tank Arsenal assembled over 22,000.
After the war, the productivity of the Detroit linear cities would become the basis for the "Treaty of Detroit," the labor agreements that defined and stabilized working-class prosperity in the postwar period. The linear cities were complete when the greenfields surrounding the plants were filled with FHA-financed suburban tract houses.