This article details the life and ideology of an urban planner, who with his publication named To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) and theory influenced the urban planning movement across the world, Sir Ebenezar Howard. This article further covers the concept and philosophy behind Howard’s English Garden city movement. 

Sir Ebenezer Howard was born in London on 29 January 1850 and took his last breath on 1 May 1928. The popular name among the community of architects and planners, was sent to schools in Suffolk and Hertfordshire. At the tender age of 15, Howard left his studies and took multiple jobs as a private secretary and stenographer before starting as a shorthand reporter in the London law courts. 

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Potrait of Sir Ebenezer Howard with his signature below_©www.gutenberg.org

Experiences in the United States of America 

In 1871 Howard moved to Nebraska with his two friends after getting influenced by a farming uncle. His futile efforts to become a farmer made him give up on the dream of becoming a farmer and relocate to Chicago. His experience at London law courts helped him earn his bread and butter as a correspondent for Chicago’s newspapers and law courts. He arrived in the city known for its deep dish pizza and bold modern architecture just after the great fire. The great fire destroyed most of the central district, which emerged as an opportunity for Howard to witness the city’s regeneration and expansion of its suburbs. Experience in Chicago perhaps instilled an interest in urban planning in Howard, which later helped him contribute his invaluable theories.  

The journey ahead in the homeland

After a lustrous, Howard migrated back to England. After arriving in his homeland, he started working for the Hansard company, a job which he continued for the rest of his life. Howard’s job role at Hansard as a parliament verbatim record keeper demanded him to spend time at the British parliament, where he learnt about the need for social reform during that period. It was the social milieu of the 1800s and the influence of Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward (1889), which made him passionately pursue the social problems of the time to find solutions as a social reformer

Foundation of The Garden City Association 

Howard on his journey as a social reformer wrote a publication in 1898, To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, where he delineates a utopian city as a place where people live harmoniously with mother nature. Howard puts forward his illustrated proposal of Garden Cities in the initial pages of the publication through his famous diagram of Three Magnets. His only publication led to the formation of the Garden City Movement, which in 1902 was significantly revised and republished as Garden Cities of To-morrow. The more popular, revised publication addressed both social and urban reforms. 

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Sir Ebenezer Howard’s magnet diagram_©www.gutenberg.org

The need for Garden Cities 

Industrialization gave birth to the industrial cities, which came with urban poverty, overcrowding, low wages, dirty alleys with no drainage, poorly ventilated houses, toxic substances, dust, carbon gases, infectious disease and lack of interaction with nature. When the working class was living in shanties to earn a meagre living, Howard with his publication offered Garden Cities. These self-sufficient cities were free of slums and enjoyed the benefits of both town (such as opportunity, amusement and good wages) and country (such as beauty, fresh air and low rents). 

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Sir Ebenezer Howard’s typical garden city plan_©www.gutenberg.org

The concept behind Garden Cities 

Howard saw Garden Cities as a new settlement founded by marrying the town and the country. He believed them to be a perfect blend of city and nature. The proposal of Garden Cities of Tomorrow demanded a reorganisation of societies with a network of Garden Cities. To break the stronghold of capitalism, leading to cooperative socialism. The proposal also urged the formation of new suburban towns surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land with fixed population size. These Garden Cities were supposed to act as a model for many suburbs. The largely independent towns would be managed by the citizens with an economic interest in them and financed by ground rents on the Georgist model. Whereas the land was to be owned by a group of trustees and leased to the citizens.

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Sir Ebenezer Howard’s typical garden city plan_©www.gutenberg.org
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Sir Ebenezer Howard’s typical garden city growth plan with surrounding green belts_©www.gutenberg.org
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Sir Ebenezer Howard’s typical garden city growth_©www.gutenberg.org

Practical translation

With the support of businessmen, Howard was able to build two garden cities during his lifetime, both in Hertfordshire: Letchworth in 1903 and Welwyn Garden City in 1920. The original Garden Cities served as prototypes for the new towns formed by the British government after World War II. These new towns differed from Howard’s model, as the contiguous zone of farmland was not an essential feature. For his contribution, he was knighted in 1927.

Sir Ebenezer Howard’s typical garden city growth_©www.gutenberg.org

Formation of Garden Cities Association

In 1899 Howard founded the Garden Cities Association, which is now known as the Town and Country Planning Association. The remarkable housing projects designed on the principle of humane design in the Weimar Republic were a result of Howard’s acquaintance with German architects Hermann Muthesius and Bruno Taut. Hermann Muthesius also played an integral role in the creation of Germany‘s first garden city of Hellerau, the only German garden city where Howard’s ideas were thoroughly adopted.

References:  

  1. Sir Ebenezer Howard | British urban planner. (2019). In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ebenezer-Howard.
  2. ‌admin (2020). Garden City Movement by Sir Ebenezer Howard | Planning Tank. [online] planningtank.com. Available at: https://planningtank.com/planning-theory/garden-city-movement.
  3. ‌Clark, B. (2003). Ebenezer Howard And The Marriage Of Town And Country. Organization & Environment, 16(1), pp.87–97. doi:10.1177/1086026602250258.
  4. ‌Architectuul. (n.d.). Ebenezer Howard. [online] Available at: https://architectuul.com/architect/ebenezer-howard.
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Ujjwal is a design enthusiast who is currently studying to be an architect. He is passionate about researching, exploring, documenting and writing about various fields of art, architecture and design.

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