Garden City Movement by Sir Ebenezer Howard

What was the Garden City Movement?

The Garden City Movement was an idea of Sir Ebenezer Howard, is known for his Publication Garden Cities of To-morrow (1898). It describes a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together with nature. The Garden City concept was also given by him. The publication resulted in the founding of the garden city movement that realized several Garden Cities in Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century. The garden city concept is one of the most influential urban planning ideas of all time. Championed by British writer and social theorist, Sir Ebenezer Howard, the concept called for small towns which were self-contained and surrounded by greenbelts. He argued they would be able to accommodate the entirety of a person’s daily needs, while still maintaining a connection to the surrounding countryside. The first such town was built in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England in 1903. He shared his vision of town planning which dealt with garden suburb though this concept. He also talked about garden village, urban design and regional planning in some of his books.

He had no training in urban planning or design but excelled in creating places. He called these places “magnets”, where people would want to come to reside and work. His garden cities were planned, containing communities surrounded by a green belt (parks), containing proportionate areas of residences, industry and agriculture. Garden city movement aimed at addressing the urban problems plaguing the industrial city of that time. Garden City Concept was an effective response for a better quality of life in over crowded and dirty industrial towns which had deteriorated the environment and posed serious threat to health. Howard suggested various additions which were related to green spaces and open spaces. Garden city model featured the greenbelt in its urban design and as a part of country planning.

Related Article: Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Town Planning Movement | The MIT Press

Garden city movement had The Three Magnets to address the question ‘Where will the people go?’ the choices being ‘Town’, ‘Country’ or ‘Town Country’.

These 3 magnets can also be regarded as the garden city principles. Open spaces, central park and green spaces were given a lot of importance in Howard’s plan.

  1. Town – The pull of ‘Town Magnet’ are the opportunities for work and high wages, social opportunities, amusements and well – lit streets. The pull of ‘Country Magnet’ is in natural beauty, fresh air, healthfulness. It was closing out of nature, offered isolation of crowds and distance from work. But it came at a cost of foul air, costly drainage, murky sky and slums.
  2. Country –  It offered natural beauty, low rents, fresh air, meadow but had low wages and lack of drainage. Country has dullness, lack of society, low wages, lack of amusements and general decay.
  3. Town- Country – it was a combination of both town and countryside with aim of providing benefits of both and offered beauty of nature, social opportunity, fields of easy access, low rent, high wages and field of enterprise. Thus, the solution was found in a combination of the advantages of Town and Country – the ‘Town – Country Magnet’ – it was proposed as a town in the Country, and having within it the amenities of natural  beauty, fresh air and healthfulness. Thus advantages of the Town – Country are seed to be free from the disadvantages of either.

Garden City Movement - The Three Magnets

How cities were supposed to be developed as per Garden City Movement

Sir Ebenezer Howard’s garden city movement was one of the first inspirations for modern day urban planning. The garden city is a place that acts as a community where people from different walks of life can live and work in harmony. The concept originated from the book by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the early 1900’s. It was important for Howard to spread his ideas, and the Garden City Movement was a way of doing it. He wanted people to move out of cities and into a new type of community that he called the Garden City. A garden city is an ideal type of settlement or urban design that has been created using a holistic approach to planning and architecture. Garden city is a place where people live, work and play. The distinct characteristics of Garden City are its green spaces and public amenities.

An ideal garden city is a compact town of 6000 acres, 5000 of which is permanently reserved for agriculture. It accommodates a maximum population of 32,000. There are parks and private lawns everywhere. Also the roads are wide, ranging from 120 to 420 feet for the Grand Avenue, and are radial rather than linear. Within the town, functional zoning is basic. Commercial, industrial, residential, and public uses are clearly differentiated from each other spatially. Additional elements include unified land ownership co-operatives, there was no individual ownership of land. Local community also participated in the decision making regarding development. As we can see in the diagram, there is a central park containing public buildings. It is surrounded by shopping streets which are further surrounded by dwelling units in all directions. The outer circle contains factories and industries. Rail road’s bypass the town, meeting the town at a tangent.

After a city reaches its target population, new interconnected nodes can be developed. A Garden City is built up and its population has reached 32,000. How will it grow? It will grow by establishing another city some little distance beyond its own zone of ‘country’, so that the new town may have a zone of its own. But the inhabitants of one could reach the other in a very few minutes; for rapid transit would be specially provided for, and thus the people of the two towns would in reality represent one community. There will be a cluster of cities so grouped around a Central City that each inhabitant of the whole group, though in one sense living in a town of small size, would be in reality living in, and would enjoy all the advantages of, a great and most beautiful city; and yet all the fresh delights of the  country; field, hedgerow, and woodland not prim parks and gardens merely would be within a very few minutes’ walk or ride. And because the people in their collective capacity own the land on which this beautiful group of cities is built, the public buildings, the churches, the schools and universities, the libraries, picture galleries, theatres, would be on a scale of magnificence which no city in the world whose land is in pawn to private individuals can afford.

Related: Central Place Theory (CPT) by Walter Christaller (1933)

Main Components of Garden City Concept

  1. Planned Dispersal: The organized outward migration of industries and people to towns of sufficient size to provide the services, variety of occupations, and level of culture needed by a balanced cross – section of modern society.
  2. Limit of Town – size: The growth of towns to be limited, in order that their inhabitants may live near work, shops, social centers, and each other and also near open country.
  3. Amenities: The internal texture of towns to be open enough to permit houses with private gardens, adequate space for schools and other functional purposes, and pleasant parks and parkways.
  4. Town and Country Relationship: The town area to be defined and a large area around it reserved permanently for agriculture; thus enabling the farm people to be assured of a nearby market and cultural center, and the town people to have the benefit of a country situation.
  5. Planning Control: Pre – planning of the whole town framework, including the road – scheme, and functional zoning; the fixing of maximum densities; the control of building as to quality and design, but allowing for individual variety; skillful planting and landscape garden design.
  6. Neighbourhoods: The town to be divided into wards, each to some extent a developmental and social entity.

Some of the important features of Garden City are –

  • 1000 acres of towns designed for healthy living and industry
  • 5000 acres if permanent green belt which surrounds the whole town
  • Density of 12 families per acre
  • A large central park having public buildings.
  • limited size of approx 32000 people, planned in advance and land in single ownership to eliminate overcrowding.

Garden City Concept

Garden cities examples as a result of garden city movement

Two garden cities were built using Howard’s garden city movement concept are Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, both in Hertfordshire, England.

Letchworth Garden City – The first garden city developed in 1903 by Barry Parker & Raymond Unwin  after having won the competition to build the first garden city. It is 34 miles away from London. It has an area of 5000 acres with 3000 acres of green belt. It had an agricultural strip at its periphery to check the invasion of urban areas i.e. the sprawling. It showed Howard’s general principles, including the communal ownership of the land and the permanent green belt has been carried through. It was a town of homes and gardens with ample open spaces and a spirited community life. A great attention was paid to landscaping and planting.

  • Its plan was based on a population of 30000 with a living area of 1250 acres and 2500 acres of rural green belt.
  • Communities ranged from 12000 – 18000 people, small enough which required no vehicular transportation.
  • Industries were connected to the central city by rapid transportation.

Related: Primate City & Primacy | Relationship between city sizes

Welwyn – It was the second Garden City founded by Sir Ebenzer Howard and designed by Louis De Soissions in 1920 and was located 20 miles from Kings Cross. It was designed for a 4000 population in 2400 acres. It was a town visually pleasing and was efficient technically and was human in scale.

  • It started with area of 2400 acres and 4000 population
  • Had a parkway, almost a mile long central mall
  • Town laid out along tree-lined boulevards with Neo Georgian town center
  • Every road had a wide grass verge

Garden city concept spread to various  parts of the world and influenced all English, American, Canadian & Australian planning but housing was most influenced. Other examples include Glenrother, Bedford Park, Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom, Village Homes, Reston in  the United States, Helleran in Germany, Tapiola in Finland.

Read more about: Welwyn Garden City by Ebenezer Howard | History, Concept & Population

Failure of Garden cities:

Letchworth slowly attracted more residents because it was able to attract manufacturers through low taxes, low rents and more space. Despite Howard’s best efforts, the home prices in this garden city could not remain affordable for workers to live in. Although many viewed Letchworth as a success, it did not immediately inspire government investment into the next line of garden cities. In frustration, Howard bought land at Welwyn to house the second garden city in 1919. The Welwyn Garden City Corporation was formed to oversee the construction. But Welwyn did not become self-sustaining because it was only 20 miles from London. Even until the end of the 1930s, Letchworth and Welwyn remained as the only existing garden cities.

Conclusion on garden city movement

The idea of garden city, which has economic and social advantages that urban aggregation had destroyed, was seen in the first two garden cities only. It was seen as the “marriage of town and country, in an increasingly coherent urban and regional pattern”. These new town towns offer a more pleasing environment than crowded and squalid quarters in old cities. The movement succeeded in emphasizing the need for urban planning policies that eventually led to the New Town movement.

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