The Need for a New Garden City Movement
July 16, 2021 9:45 AM   Subscribe

In the early 1900s, a strange and wonderful planning fad caught on. It can still help us think about building livable places.
posted by forbiddencabinet (15 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The essential elements of the city were:

* Strong community engagement
* Community ownership of land [Howard was also inspired by progressive economist Henry George, who famously argued that land should be collectively owned]
* Mixed-tenure homes and housing types that are genuinely affordable
* A wide range of local jobs within easy commuting distance of homes
* Well designed homes with gardens, combining the best of town and country
* Green infrastructure that enhances the natural environment
* Strong cultural, recreational and shopping facilities
* Integrated and accessible transport

Sign me up!
posted by rogerroger at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

And apparently more jam than furniture!
posted by betweenthebars at 10:21 AM on July 16, 2021

Good and thorough introduction to an influential visionary. Bookmarked and ready for sending to lots of people who I hope will learn from it. The Garden City movement had a large influence on the Continent, perhaps larger than in the UK. One nice example is Siemensstadt, which I like because it really shows how the important parts are the planning principles, not the style (which changed a lot over the years of development).
People, including the author of this article, always blame le Corbusier's Plan Voisin for the overreaches of 1960s and -70s planning. This is not entirely wrong-wrong, but it is a lot more wrong than right. Le Corbusier was among the young architects at the beginning of the 20th century who were very inspired by the Garden City movement, and the Plan Voisin reflected that. People weren't supposed to live in the highrises that are always shown (including in the wikipedia article I linked to), those were office towers. People were supposed to live in spacious duplexes (in 8-story buildings) surrounded by vast and verdant landscapes. The cross-shaped plans of the office-buildings were meant to give all the workers equal acces to daylight and views. I'm not a huge le Corbusier fan, I'm just saying that the windy midtowns, scary projects and endless suburbs of the post-war period are the work of greedy developers, corrupt politicians and planners like Robert Moses.
I have a dream of renting a bus and showing some of our contemporary politicians and planners around to the communities that were planned and build in accordance with the principles of the Garden City Movement. Some are romantic in style, some are semi-modern, and some are built of concrete slabs. But they are all beloved and taken well care of. They have green public spaces and lots of community facilities which have been adapted over time. Seriously, I'm working on this project, and hope to succeed within the next couple of years. I think that often, people find it hard to figure out how the words developers, planners and architects use for their projects, and the reality. It's easy to write that you are building a harmonious, close knit community even though you are in fact overbuilding a polluted site with banal two-bedroom apartments. Because only professionals can see the difference.
posted by mumimor at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2021 [18 favorites]

Well at least we know where Uncle Walt stole his idea from now.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:35 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I believe EPCOT was inspired by Olmsted's work, actually. He had similar ideas about blending urban living with the countryside and gardens. I believe Olmsted was one of Howard's influences as well.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 11:41 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

My old company had an engineering facility in Welwyn Garden City. It is indeed a nice place to live with easy access to the rail lines and a reasonable commute to London. I had heard it was part of a movement but this is the first time I heard the movement's name.

There's a Garden City on Long Island but it doesn't seem to have been directly inspired by the New Garden City Movement despite sharing a number of its principles (at least at the beginning).
posted by tommasz at 12:36 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

That place just looks like any standard suburb to me. And I think it's kind of sad they made those nice looking parks that are nearly completely empty in every photo in the article.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:16 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

i go to garden city 2 or 3 times a year, and it was started as one of those towns - later, it became home to the first kmart, the first little caesar's and the first dine-in mcdonald's in michigan and is pretty much indistinguishable from any other inner ring suburb of detroit
posted by pyramid termite at 3:36 PM on July 16, 2021

tommasz, LI's Garden City (in Nassau County) pre-dates this movement/Howard's book by about 30 years. In 1869, department-store magnate Alexander Turney Stewart began the construction of Garden City, at Hempstead Plains, Long Island, with the purpose of providing his employees with healthy housing at a moderate cost.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:45 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Olmsted > Moses
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it's kind of sad they made those nice looking parks that are nearly completely empty in every photo in the article.
It's a thing in architectural photography. They take the pictures very early in the morning or during work hours so they can avoid humans in their pictures. It has been going slightly out of fashion during the last decade, but it still the mainstream convention. To me it seems impractical, since you want to know how an urban development or a building works.
Typically the busiest times for urban/suburban parks is morning where people are running, or late afternoon/early evening when people are relaxing after school/work. It is not difficult to get empty pictures, even in very dense areas. I know because I'm good at it. I am not a photographer, but at architecture school, we were encouraged to show our slides, and those that were empty and with interesting lighting were highly prized.
posted by mumimor at 4:48 AM on July 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I live close to Letchworth Garden City and not too far from Welwyn Garden City, and they are both lovely places. Both are very good places for commuting into London, which is not irrelevant to the discussion.

What both have is a really lovely, walkable town centre based on parks and broad avenues. This makes them fantastic to visit, especially if arriving by train, because all the main stuff is right there: shops, cafes, cinema, space. Given the house prices, a lot of people must like living there too, (but remember: fast trains direct to London would push up prices even in a toxic swamp).

Anyway, if you want the counter argument, here is (as ever) Jonathan Meades on Letchworth.

And if you want the theme song, here's Little Howard, also on Letchworth.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:52 AM on July 17, 2021

Thanks for posting this-- I hadn't come across The Death and Life of Great American Cities before!
posted by travertina at 10:29 AM on July 17, 2021

travertina - Of course you can go read the book but just FYI it was via fellow mefite zompist's website that I first learned about Jane Jacobs, many years ago, and I think it's still a great summary of the main points of the book.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:28 PM on July 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking along these lines while touring smaller centres recently. I was planning on googling "garden planet." This thread pushed me to do so, and I found this.

I have read that the greatest fears of human beings are the fear of death and the fear of nature. It seems that the idea of a universal garden is one way to overcome these fears simultaneously.
posted by No Robots at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2021

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