Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities

Our clients and projects take us across London and the surrounding home counties. These projects outside of London differ in scale and context; understanding the context is crucial to fully integrating our concept of ‘scenario architecture’, to design a home which learns from the way a family live and creates those everyday scenarios.

In 1898, The Garden City Movement was initiated by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the UK. This movement is a method of urban planning, creating self contained communities surrounded by ‘greenbelts’ that also contain areas of residences, industry, and agriculture. In short, a Garden City is a new town designed as a whole with plenty of greenery and open space. However, Sir Ebenezer Howard had very specific ideas on what a garden city should be.

Ebenezer Howard was inspired by the works of Edward Bellamy and Henry George to publish his own book: A Peaceful Path To Real Reform in 1898. Howard wanted his garden city to accommodate 32,000 people across 6,000 acres, and it would be planned in a concentric pattern with open spaces, public parks, and size radial boulevards, 120 ft wide, extending out from the centre. The garden city would be self-sufficient, and once it had reached full population, another one would be developed in a nearby space. Howard’s dream was to create a cluster of several garden cities as satellites of a central city of 50,000 people, and they would all be linked by road and rail.

Ebenezer Howard’s book was reissued in 1902 as ‘The Garden Cities of To-morrow’, and this reissue was successful, providing him with the support he required to bring his vision to life. At the time, overcrowding and deterioration of cities was a big issue, and the garden city concept created an alternative to working on farms or in unhealthy cities for the working class.

However, for Howard to begin realising his dream, he needed to find funding to buy land. In order to do this he founded the Garden Cities Association, which later became known as the Town and Country Planning Association, which created First Garden City, Ltd. in 1899 to create the garden city of Letchworth.

If the garden city generated profit through rent, then the donors would collect interest on their investment. Howard attempted to include working class cooperative organisations but was unable to gain their financial backing. He therefore had to rely on wealthy investors to make concessions to his plan, and had to eliminate the cooperative ownership scheme with no landlords, short-term rent increases, and even had to hire architects who did not agree with his rigid designs.

In 1904, an architect and town planner named Raymond Unwin, and his partner Barry Parker, managed to win a competition to plan Letchworth. They began to plan the town 34 miles outside of London, in the centre of the Letchworth estate, using Howard’s agricultural greenbelt surrounding the town. They also believed that the working class needed better, more affordable housing, but the architects ignored the symmetric design created by Howard, and instead used a design that felt more ‘organic’.

Once complete, Letchworth began to attract more residents steadily, as it was able to attract manufacturers due to its low taxes, low rent, and abundance of space. In spite of this, home prices in Letchworth couldn’t remain affordable for regular blue-collar workers, and mostly skilled middle class workers populated the area. After 10 years, Letchworth became profitable and dividends were given to the investors. Many people looked at it as a successful project, but the government didn’t invest in the next line of garden cities until later.

In 1919, Howard purchased land at Welwyn to create the next garden city. He used money borrowed from his friends at an auction to make the purchase, and the Welwyn Garden City corporation was formed to take care of the construction.

Letchworth and Welwyn in Hertfordshire were the only two existing garden cities until the end of the 1930s, even though they both became successful after a short time. After WWII, the concept was again implemented when the New Towns Act initiated the development of many new communities based on Howard’s designs and ideas surrounding egalitarianism.

Whilst they were primarily Hertfordshire Architects, now there are many developments influenced by the Garden city movement, both in the UK and across the world.

Developments influenced by the Garden city movement in the UK

    • Glenrothes, United Kingdom
    • Bedford Park, London, United Kingdom
    • Covaresa, Valladolid, Spain
    • Den-en-ch?fu, ?ta, Tokyo, Japan
    • Hellerau, Dresden, Germany
    • Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong
    • Marino, Dublin, Ireland
    • Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom
    • Pinelands, Cape Town, South Africa
    • Village Homes, Davis, California, United States
    • Reston, Virginia, United States
    • St Helier, London, United Kingdom
    • Tapiola, Finland
    • Telford, United Kingdom
    • The Garden Village, Kingston upon Hull

Worldwide inspired developments can also be found in the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Canada, and more. Garden cities can bring more health and happiness to residents, and are far safer than other types of developments overall!

This guide is suitable for anyone requiring consent from the local council to alter a home. It reviews the ins and outs of UK planning and strategies for successfully navigating it, based on our own experience.

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