In 1898 Ebenezer Howard published his first and only book. The book was called ‘To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ where he outlined his ideas on how to build a good city. The book was re-issued in 1902 and re-named ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow’. The garden city was Howards response to the urban and human condition of 19th century London, being one of the most captivating ideas on how to build a city.
Howards first insight was to visualize human settlements as magnets with power to attract people. In Howards time attention emerged between two different kinds of magnets. You could stay in the countryside or you could move to big town. Both had their pros and cons. In the countryside you were in touch with the beauty of nature. You had peace, tranquillity and fresh air but life could get boring with little opportunity for advancement. So, you went to a big town to find better work. This was the place of opportunity and amusements of education and culture but was also quite dirty and foggy and too expensive to live in. people continued to go to overcrowded towns because they were stronger magnets, but something was clearly out of balance in the emerging modern world. People were restless, anxious and over-worked in the over-inflated towns.
Howards biggest insight was to look for the third magnet that had the perfect amalgamation of nature and society. An ideal human habitat, all pros, no con. This new kind of settlement, ‘the garden city’ would become the strongest magnet that will naturally attract people from overcrowded towns. Howard was not an architect, so he was not concerned with the physical arrangement of his ideal settlements, but he was quite clear when it came to the features of the new town-country magnet.
To build a successful garden city, Howard needed others who wanted to build the town the right way. Land had to be purchased at this time and Howard knew that he would need to borrow some as he would need to purchase around 6000 acres. After land was purchased, Howard needed experts to help him like architects, civil engineers and landscape gardeners to help him with the plan of his city. Only the central thousand acres of land would be the city itself. The remaining five thousand acres had to be left for the green belt of agriculture and farms.
Industrialists had to be persuaded to move their factories to a new town. This was a crucial step as these factories would bring workers and other professionals who would start setting up their houses in the town. This town is supposed to be an independent, autonomous community. With citizens moving in it is important to make sure they have everything they need in the town itself.
The main feature of the town is that the land upon which it is built will be completely owned by its citizens as you build up the town out of nothing the land of the town will start increasing. Once citizens have paid off what they borrowed to purchase the land. They can use this increase in land value to generate the welfare fund for the citizens. By doing this all the increase in land will flow back to the community. Citizens will feel a sense of ownership of the town and as a result they will take good care of it.
Howard knew the growth of the town had to be limited and not grow indefinitely. The green belt surrounding it must be strictly preserved. The town should stop growing once the limit of around thirty-two thousand habitants is reached. Once the town had grown its limit Howard envisioned more towns to be created nearby on the same principles, having a growth in smaller towns that would be connected to each other by highspeed railway and in time you would have an interconnected polycentric system of healthy, autonomous towns. This was Ebenezer Howards vision for an ideal way to Inhabit the planet. Systems of elegant garden cities, each with its own unique character and well taken care of by its citizens. This would be the real manifestation of a town-country magnet embraced by mother nature where people thrive, having everything they need nearby and never bored. However, this vision has never been realised in its pure form. People resonated deeply with Howards idea and started trying to build garden cities right away in places like Letchworth, Hampstead, Welwyn and all over the world with a varying degree of success but never the real thing.
A powerful magnet will attract because it is in its nature to do so. It will attract from the weaker magnets. The idea of the garden city remains strong. Much of what is being built and proposed for cities today can be traced back in Howards book.
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