Sir Ebenezer Howard

Born 1850, London
Knighted 1927
First Garden City built 1903
Died 1928, Welwyn, England

In 1898 the civil engineer Ebenezer Howard wrote the highly influential "Garden Cities for Tomorrow". In it he describes his idea for an urban utopia. The book has since become the most translated planning text in the world, and has been directly responsible for the design of more than 100 new urban centres worldwide.

Garden Cities


Ebenezer Howard developed most of his ideas living in Victorian England, where overcrowding was commonplace. During the previous 100 years, industrialisation had brought more and more people from the country into the cities in search of work. The English countryside was languishing in poverty and unemployment while the cities were polluted and overcrowded.

Meanwhile, the Arts and Crafts movement was showing a new focus on community culture, and the breakthroughs in engineering resulted grand structures like the Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower and The Great Western Railway.

Theory of Garden Cities

On the first page of his book, Ebenezer introduces his idea of the "Three Magnets"; the attraction of living in the country, the attraction of living in the city, and the attraction of living in a new garden city. To Ebenezer, the principle attractions of living in a city were employment and social life. The attractions of country life were the clean air, and open spaces.

The purpose of the garden city was to bring together the economic advantages of city living with the clean lifestyle of country living. The city itself was to be built on principles community and decentralisation.

"... by so laying. out a garden city that, as it grows, the free gifts of Nature- fresh air, sunlight, breathing room and playing room - shall be still retained in all needed abundance"

"Garden Cities for Tomorrow"

Characteristics of Garden Cities

As Ebenezer Howard envisioned it, a garden city would be a "clustered city" with multiple town centres, each with a population under 5,000 people. Each of these satellite towns would be economically inter-reliant but individuals would eat food produced in their own centre, and work in their own centre.

The food would be produced in agricultural land witin the city, "greenbelts" as Ebenezer called them. The city would be marked out by these broad rings of vegetation, only broken by radial highways or canals connecting the city to it's neighbouring towns. The circular design would continue inside the city, with circular roads, waterways and parks rippling out from the town centre.

The wedges created by this design would be seperated for distinct purposes; government, education, industry, residential etc. The buildings themselves contained open space and gardens, very unlike the traditional Victorian terraces.

Results of the Garden Cities Movement

In 1903 the Garden City Company acquired land for the founding of the first city built on Howard's principles ( More than 40 English cities were settled by this company over then next 60 years. After World War two, Howard's ideas were still highly influential in the rebuilding of many European cities, including London and Paris.

In the second half of the 20th century the influence of the garden city ideas waned for a number of reasons. The low population density of these towns meant that public transport was expensive and inefficient. This in turn resulted in increasing use of cars and then traffic jams and highway construction. The small size of the satellite towns meant that people sometimes had to go to the next centre for work, or even that one company came to dominate the town. The population density also continued to decrease, resulting in sprawling suburbs on the fringes of the towns.

Some examples of cities influenced by the garden cities movement:
See also:

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