The folllowing sample essay on Garden City Paper discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
In 1902 a book was published, entitled: Garden cities of To-morrow. It was written By Ebenezer Howard and it set out his plan for creating better neighbourhoods, cities, regions, nations and a better society. It did this through diagrams and explanations of his ideals. Some describe it as a dream, an impossible utopia.
Yet it is one of the greatest influences of Town planning today.
So how did Howard, a man who had very little town planning background, create such a book?
His influences are many. If you were to look chronologically at past models of city ideals you could start with that of the Greeks with Miletus, a complete planned city. Or the Kaogongji, of the ancient Chinese. Principle traditions to create perfect cities. Indeed Plato was the one of the first to set out plans for utopian cities and would probably have influenced Howard, even slightly, with theories of population limits and balancing urban areas and country settings.
But Howard’s influence started with the stories in the bible. City layouts as described for Levitical cities of Palestine in the 15th century by Moses and Ezekial. These cities had ‘cubits’ or perimeters. They were also surrounded by country and pasture grounds. The Roman empire echoed this with the Pomerium (Space either side of the city walls)and Ager Effatus (designated fields.
Some influences upon Howard’s thinking were the literary utopias that man has thought about for hundreds of years. Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ was a set of rules, but no plans for an ideal city. He stated that towns should have distance between them, children should have access to the countryside. He was against sprawl over the countryside, instead opting for ‘green belts’. He also thought of neighbourhood units and communal buildings. But he lacked details and plans.
In 1817, Robert Owen, started a town a New Lanark with his own ‘social philosophy’. He believed that humans could influence the character of society. Though work and education they could achieve genuine values.
Owens thinking was radical and he did a lot of work, creating ‘The institute for the formation of character’. He experimented with his ideas, published them and became a famous social thinker. He was a strong influence on Howard’s ideas, yet Owen’s thinking was too communal and his plans were not perfect.
J S Buckingham, also a keen influence for Howard, Created plans for his ideal city at Victoria. It was a compact city, but everyone would have easy access to all parts of the city.
The use of parklands and belts emerged famously in the planning community from Col William Light, in Australia, 1837. With the planning of Adelaide’s park belt, which was very successful. But earlier signs of the green belt ideas were shown in Christopher Wrens plans for the rebuilding of London after the great fire of 1666.
The most recent influences leading up to Howard’s publishing were the model ‘experimental’ cities created by capitalists in the 19th century.
Sir Titas Salt, with Saltaire in Yorkshire. Lord Leverhulme with Port sunlight and George Cadbury with Bournville. The latter two examples were impressive for Howard.
Bournville and Port Sunlight were created for the workers of the factories that were owned by the capitalists. Leverhulme, with his soap company, built the city to house workers and provided art galleries, open spaces and gardens. Although his motives were primarily to increase production, he created better living conditions for his workers. Cadbury’s town, situated near Birmingham, provided quality semi-detached housing, gardens and open spaces. Yet he also sought for the town to have residents who did not work for him. He was less controlling and sought to improve morale and quality of his workers’ lives.
These experiments in town planning and Howard’s observations of the over crowded, poor urban living conditions in England pushed him to write his book. Initially entitled to-morrow. It was not an instant success, but under it’s 1902 re-release it did attain a following of influential people, who were not ignoring England’s town planning problems.
To put Howard’s plans into practice a company was formed in 1901. Initially the company was unimpressive, yet with the addition of Ralph Neville, an influential lawyer as chair it soon gathered pace as ‘The Garden City Pioneer Company ltd.’
With Neville, Alfred Russell Wallace, George Cadbury and Lord Leverhulme the company was able to purchase land for the worlds’ first Garden City. After dismissing many proposed sites, they decided upon Letchworth, a town 40 miles from London.
Putting Howard’s ideas into a plan, were the architects Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker. Unwin had experience in town planning, went on to write a book ‘Town Planning in practice’ which discussed housing, architecture and town layouts, using cul de sacs and aesthetic qualities.
The Pioneer company released a pamphlet, describing the architecture for the builders. Housing was to be ‘Simple, yet well built. But suitably designed to promote a special charm, without pointless ornament.’ This vague description led to some uniformity of the town and some ugly buildings. The city also failed on other accounts. It was not circular, as it had to conform to the landform. The industry became scattered, and the project was under-funded. This, along with the world war bringing munitions factories, raised the house values- meaning it was unaffordable for some workers, who then had to travel far to work. Its successes were few, it did retain some of Howard’s ideals of open space, use of parklands and a certain charm, yet it didn’t house enough municipal owned land and affordable housing due to under-funding.
Building cities from scratch is extremely expensive, especially when trying to make affordable housing.
In 1906 Parker and Unwin worked on Hampstead, a garden suburb. It was a new direction in the garden cities movement, yet veered from a lot of Howard’s ideas. It was entirely sufficient on the city for work and amusement. It was also very uniformed in its architecture and, although picturesque, it was static and contrary to Howard’s versatile plans. The garden suburb was successful, mainly because of its small size and links to the city.
Undeterred by the failures of Letchworth, it seemed that the company was actually doing well. Letchworth was a step in the right direction and a good laboratory for the garden city movement.
So in 1919, enough capital had been raised to buy and develop Welwyn. This was a site, much closer to London.
The first houses built here followed Letchworth’s example of simple design, yet were regarded as ‘slums’ by critics. De Soissons was appointed as architect. He used similar designs as Unwin. Informal winding roads and cul de sac communities.
This time the company was in a stronger position to support the architect and be more precise about the housing development. Hence the rural, ‘town country’ composition worked. The existing trees were conserved where possible, planting was used to individualise streets and a green belt was formed between Welwyn and London.
Yet there were still criticisms about the town. It was misunderstood as a ‘satellite town’ in which industry clung around London. But it was not this sort of satellite town. But it was again under-funded, leading to a lack of amusements and community buildings and it had to follow landform wherever possible, to cut costs.
Welwyn grew slowly, but these two first Garden cities were successful in another way. They acted as excellent testing ground for the garden city movement and started to inspire the world, which had populations, migrating to urban centres. Many countries had to address the problems of overcrowding. Howard’s ideas were put into practice, yet they filtered down. Many cities now used green belts or cul de sac communities, but it is yet to be achieved on a regional, or national planning level.
In England, a man inspired by Hoards work and other previous cities set about creating his own. Started before Letchworth, but after the release of Howard’s book, Rowntree began work on his town of New Earswick. It was primarily for his workers at his factory, yet he had his own ideals. He wanted open spaces and affordable housing as in Howard’s book. Yet he also wanted the families to be able to grow their own food and supplied each with gardens and fruit trees. New Earswick was, and is a successful town, even though many of the residents are very poor. Even now houses are built with gardens and fruit trees.
In the mid 20th century new problems were emerging. This was becoming the age of the motor car.
America was inspired by Howard and a garden city association emerged there. With supporters such as Olmstead, who later worked on Central Park, NYC, the association became the RPAA. (The regional planning association of America.) Henry Wright, Clarence Stein and Alexander Bing, began plans for garden cities; primarily around New York. They wanted to achieve a regional plan of all areas, as Howard described. They had projects such as the Appalachian Trail. Which was to promote growth along eastern USA, with farming, timber and regional communities.
The CHC (city housing corporation) also emerged in the USA to tackle the housing shortages.
Together they worked on the first garden suburb in the USA, at sunnyside gardens, Queens. A practical experiment, it followed a filtered version of Howard’s ideas. After little success they started on the next, major project of Radburn, New Jersey. They used superblocks, which were developed at sunnyside. A core of open space surrounded by a network of cul de sacs.
This city had a degree of self sufficiency, but it’s main success was tackling the road issues. Traffic was separated from pedestrians by planting and overpasses. Path systems were created, with parkways and open spaces.
Later when recession his the USA, the CHC and the RPAA disappeared, but valuable lessons were learned from the city experiments. All these influences have lead to today’s town planning.
In the UK towns like New Earswick continue to thrive. New towns are clearly influenced by filtered versions of the Garden Cities of To-morrow, such as: Alkrington Hall Estate (from 1911), Bristol Garden Suburb (1909), and also in Cardiff, Coventry, Romford Ilford, Methyr, Oldham Southampton, Warrington, etc .Indeed, for much of the 20th Century the main ideals embodied in Howardï¿½s work have influenced planners. Moreover, the Garden City Association provided valuable support for the town planning movement and was an important pressure group in lobbying for greater planning legislation. Its most significant contribution however was demonstrating that town planning ideals could be successfully applied in practice.
Yet in conclusion to the question given on the legacy of the garden cities movement, I find myself asking, what are we moving towards? A regional plan of surbria? Where garden suburbs and towns spread like tentacles over every undeveloped area of England. Is this what we really want? To be five minutes in reach of the mall and golf course, living in crime free, simple ‘perfect’ suburban homes. Becoming gas guzzling, land eating, money driven people; ruled by corporations. I think that we need to do more that what Howard dreamt of. New problems have arisen and we need to address the core of them, ourselves, our needs, not our desires. The needs of the next generations.
I find myself thinking that, yes, we do need open spaces, yes, we need countryside, towns and communities. But we do need to change. Why can’t we learn to dream again, to think imaginatively before we build too much, too fast and live to regret it?