Garden Cities in England

In 1898, a self-educated Englishman named Ebenezer Howard, who had been influenced by the writings of Edward Bellamy and Henry George, published Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform.  Revised and re-issued in 1902 under a new title, Garden Cities of To-Morrow, Howard’s book became Ebenezer Howarda seminal text in the emerging field of city planning.  The sweeping solution that Howard proposed for the crowding, crime, grit, and chaos of England’s urban areas was the creation of planned communities of 32,000 people, ringing major cities and combining the best features of town and country.

Garden Cities-Book cover

Howard proposed that these new towns, which he called Garden Cities, would be developed on land that was permanently owned by a municipalGarden City Diagram fm 1902 book corporation, for which “men of probity” would serve as “trustees.”  Like Henry George, he wanted to capture the social increment for public improvement, not private enrichment.  Unlike George, Howard’s mechanism was not the single tax but municipal ownership.

Poster advertising the merits of Letchworth Garden City-1925 Poster for Welwyn Garden CityOver 30 Garden Cities were eventually developed in England, starting with Letchworth in 1903 and Welwyn in 1920.  It is important to note that the Garden Cities were complete urban economies on municipally owned land.  They were never about housing alone.  The Lands of the Garden Cities were leased out for industry, orchards, offices, and shops, in addition to being used for owner-occupied cottages, limited equity housing cooperatives, and rentals.

Welwyn shredded wheat factory-1928

Howard’s book, the only one he ever wrote, the Garden Cities Association which he founded in 1899, and the examples of the Garden Cities themselves proved to be enormouslNorris Dam logo-TVAy influential in city planning circles throughout the world.  In the United States, in particular, Garden City principles influenced writers and planners like Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, Clarence Perry, Rexford Tugwell, and Arthur Morgan.  While serving as one of three co-chairmen of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Morgan oversaw the planning and development of Norris, Tennessee, a new town that was built from scratch on leased land, designed according to principles borrowed from Ebenezer Howard and the Garden Cities in England.

Key Dates

1850:  Ebenezer Howard is born in London.

1871:  At the age of 21, Howard emigrates with two friends to America, trying his hand at farming in Nebraska.

1876:  Howard returns to England and joins a firm producing parliamentary reports.

1898:  Howard publishes Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform.

1899:  Howard founds the Garden Cities Association, today known as the Town and Country Planning Association.

1902:  Howard’s 1898 book is revised and reissued under a new title, Garden Cities of To-Morrow.

1903:  Letchworth Garden City is founded, located 35 miles north of London.Letchworth Map

1904:  In March, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin are appointed consulting architects to oversee the design and development of Letchworth.

1905:  Howard moves to Letchworth.

Letchworth sign

1911:  Howard moves into a limited equity housing cooperative in Letchworth, known as  Homesgarth.

1920:  Welwyn Garden City is founded.

1924:  Sunnyside Gardens is developed as a planned community on Garden City principles in Queens, New York.

1925:  The National Biscuit Company begins production of shredded wheat at its new factory in Welwyn Garden City, employing 100 workers.

1928:  Ebenezer Howard dies at the age of 78.

1929:  The new town of Radburn, New Jersey is founded.  Its planners – Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, and Marjorie Sewell Cautley – incorporate Garden City principles into Radburn’s design.

1933:  Norris, Tennessee is developed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to house workers building Norris Dam on the Clinch River. The city’s design – and its leasehold form of landownership – is based on Howard’s Garden Cities.

1935:  Planning and development begins for three new towns under the direction of Rexford Guy Tugwell, head of the U.S. Resettlement Administration.  Three of these “greenbelt towns” are eventually built along lines similar to the Garden Cities in England: Greendale, Wisconsin; Greenbelt, Maryland; and Greenhills, Ohio. 

Further Reading

  • Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow, 3rd ed. (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2002).
  • Peter Hall and C. Ward, Sociable Cities: the Legacy of Ebenezer Howard, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1998).
  • Dennis Hardy, Utopian England: Community Experiments 1900-1945 (London/New York: Routledge, 2000).Ross&Cabannes-Book cover
  • Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of To-Morrow (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1965).
  • Philip Ross and Yves Cabannes, 21st Century Garden Cities of To-morrow: A Manifesto (Letchworth Garden City: New Garden City Movement, 2014.)

External Links