Ebenezer Howard

Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London, 1902. Reprinted, edited with a Preface by F. J. Osborn and an Introductory Essay by Lewis Mumford. (London: Faber and Faber, [1946]):50-57, 138- 147.

So much has been written about Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) and his garden city concept that this note is scarcely needed. His formal education was limited, and at twenty- one he came to America where in Nebraska he discovered he was not meant to be a farmer. At Chicago he used his knowledge of shorthand to obtained works as a reporter for the courts and newspapers. By 1876 he was back in England where he found a job with a firm producing the official Parliamentary reports, and it was at this occupation that he spent the rest of his life. Howard read widely and thought deeply about social issues, and out of this concern came his book in 1898 titled To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. He paid for the printing of his proposal calling for the creation of new towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land.

Howard's ideas attracted enough attention and financial backing to begin Letchworth, the pioneering venture of what he hoped would become a mass movement. A new edition of his book in 1902 with a different title helped to sustain the movement although it would not be until after the First World War that a second towns, Welwyn Garden City, would be launched. The two chapters of his book reprinted below are those describing his vision of Garden City's physical characteristics and how a cluster of them might be created as population increased. Howard was no designer, and he stated that the plan for a town on an actual site would doubtless depart from the one he described. He also labeled each of his drawings "Diagram only. Plan cannot be drawn until site selected." Nevertheless, his verbal pictures and accompanying diagrams reflect his own beliefs about how a model garden city should be laid out. The ring and radial pattern of his imaginary Garden City was a plan that many other writers of the time also favored, because of its perceived superiority from both engineering and architectural viewpoints.

Howard's emphasis on the importance of a permanent girdle of open and agricultural land around the town soon became part of British planning doctrine that eventually developed almost into dogma. Its most impressive application was the plan for Greater London in 1944 and--following passage of the New Towns Act of 1946--the creation of a ring of new towns beyond the London Greenbelt. On practical grounds at least as strong a case could be made for an urban configuration based on wedges of open space thrusting inward and confining development to the intervening corridors. This was precisely what H. V. Lanchester argued in 1908 in his article in a British professional journal. Thomas Mawson reprinted Lanchester's diagram in his Civic Art of 1911. This concept appeared in 1910 in one of the prize-wining plans for Greater Berlin, and later that year one of its authors, Rudolf Eberstadt described it in a paper delivered at the R.I.B.A. conference on town planning in London and in his book Handbuch des Wohnungswesens und der Wohnungsfrage.

A portion of Howard's chapter, "Social Cities" has been added to make clear how he proposed to deal with population increase after Garden City's limit of 32,000 had been reached. In it he erroneously used the example of Adelaide, Australia, surmising from the patterns of urban development and surrounding parkland that North Adelaide was planned some years after the initial settlement and as a way of providing for population overspill. He did not know that both communities were laid out at the same time, the result of an increase in numbers of initial colonists over the estimates current in London where the Adelaide town plan was probably conceived. Footnotes appearing in the original have been omitted here as not germane to the focus of this collection of documents.

The reader is asked to imagine an estate embracing an area of 6,000 acres, which is at present purely agricultural, and has been obtained by purchase in the open market at a cost of £40 an acre, or £240,000. The purchase money is supposed to have been raised on mortgage debentures, bearing interest at an average rate not exceeding £4 per cent. The estate is legally vested in the names of four gentlemen of responsible position and of undoubted probity and honour, who hold it in trust, first, as a security for the debenture-holders, and, secondly, in trust for the people of Garden City, the Town- country magnet, which it is intended to build thereon. One essential feature of the plan is that all ground rents, which are to be based upon the annual value of the land, shall be paid to the trustees, who, after providing for interest and sinking fund, will hand the balance to the Central Council of the new municipality,' to be employed by such Council in the creation and maintenance of all necessary public work--roads, schools, parks, etc.

The objects of this land purchase may be stated in various ways, but it is sufficient here to say that some of the chief objects are these: To find for our industrial population work at wages of higher purchasing power, and to secure healthier surroundings and more regular employment. To enterprising manufacturers, co-operative societies, architects, engineers, builders, and mechanicians of all kinds, as well as to many engaged in various professions, it is intended to offer a means of securing new and better employment for their capital and talents, while to the agriculturists present on the estate as well as to those who may migrate thither, it is designed to open a new market for their produce close to their doors. Its object is, in short, to raise the standard of health and comfort of all true workers of whatever grade--the means by which these objects are to be achieved being a healthy, natural, and economic combination of town and country life, and this on land owned by the municipality.

Garden City, which is to be built near the centre of the 6,000 acres, covers an area of 1,000 acres, or a sixth part of the 6,000 acres, and might be of circular form, 1,240 yards (or nearly three-quarters of a mile) from centre to circumference. (Diagram 2 is a ground plan of the whole municipal area, showing the town in the centre; and Diagram 3, which represents one section or ward of the town, will be useful in following the description of the town itself--a description which is, however, merely suggestive, and will probably be much departed from.)

Six magnificent boulevards--each 120 feet wide--traverse the city from centre to circumference, dividing it into six equal parts or wards. In the centre is a circular space containing about five and a half acres, laid out as a beautiful and well- watered garden; and, surrounding this garden, each standing in its own ample grounds, are the larger public buildings--town hall, principal concert and lecture hall, theatre, library, museum, picture-gallery, and hospital.

The rest of the large space encircled by the 'Crystal Palace' is a public park, containing 145 acres, which includes ample recreation grounds within very easy access of all the people.

Running all round the Central Park (except where it is intersected by the boulevards) is a wide glass arcade called the 'Crystal Palace', opening on to the park. This building is in wet weather one of the favourite resorts of the people, whilst the knowledge that its bright shelter is ever close at hand tempts people into Central Park, even in the most doubtful of weathers. Here manufactured goods are exposed for sale, and here most of that class of shopping which requires the joy of deliberation and selection is done. The space enclosed by the Crystal Palace is, however, a good deal larger than is required for these purposes, and a considerable part of it is used as a Winter Garden --the whole forming a permanent exhibition of a most attractive character, whilst its circular form brings it near to every dweller in the town--the furthest removed inhabitant being within 600 yards.

Passing out of the Crystal Palace on our way to the outer ring of the town, we cross Fifth Avenue--lined, as are all the roads of the town, with trees--fronting which, and looking on to the Crystal Palace, we find a ring of very excellently built houses, each standing in its own ample grounds; and, as we continue our walk, we observe that the houses are for the most part built either in concentric rings, facing the various avenues (as the circular roads are termed), or fronting the boulevards and roads which all converge to the centre of the town. Asking the friend who accompanies us on our journey what the population of this little city may be, we are told about 30,000 in the city itself, and about 2,000 in the agricultural estate, and that there are in the town 5,500 building lots of an average size of 20 feet x 130 feet--the minimum space allotted for the purpose being 20 x 100. Noticing the very varied architecture and design which the houses and groups of houses display--some having common gardens and co- operative kitchens--we learn that general observance of street line or harmonious departure from it are the chief points as to house building, over which the municipal authorities exercise control, for, though proper sanitary arrangements are strictly enforced, the fullest measure of individual taste and preference is encouraged.

Walking still toward the outskirts of the town, we come upon 'Grand Avenue'. This avenue is fully entitled to the name it bears, for it is 420 feet wide, and, forming a belt of green upwards of three miles long, divides that part of the town which lies outside Central Park into two belts. It really constitutes an additional park of 115 acres--a park which is within 240 yards of the furthest removed inhabitant. In this splendid avenue six sites, each of four acres, are occupied by public schools and their surrounding playgrounds and gardens, while other sites are reserved for churches, of such denominations as the religious beliefs of the people may determine, to be erected and maintained out of the funds of the worshippers and their friends. We observe that the houses fronting on Grand Avenue have departed (at least in one of the wards--that of which Diagram 3 is a representation)--from the general plan of concentric rings, and, in order to ensure a longer line of frontage on Grand Avenue, are arranged in crescents--thus also to the eye yet further enlarging the already splendid width of Grand Avenue.

On the outer ring of the town are factories, warehouses, dairies, markets, coal yards, timber yards, etc., all fronting on the circle railway, which encompasses the whole town, and which has sidings connecting it with a main line of railway which passes through the estate. This arrangement enables goods to be loaded direct into trucks from the warehouses and workshops, and so sent by railway to distant markets, or to be taken direct from the trucks into the warehouses or factories; thus not only effecting a very great saving in regard to packing and cartage, and reducing to a minimum loss from breakage, but also, by reducing the traffic on the roads of the town, lessening to a very marked extent the cost of their maintenance. The smoke fiend is kept well within bounds in Garden City; for all machinery is driven by electric energy, with the result that the cost of electricity for lighting and other purposes is greatly reduced.

The refuse of the town is utilized on the agricultural portions of the estate, which are held by various individuals in large farms, small holdings, allotments, cow pastures, etc.; the natural competition of these various methods of agriculture, tested by the willingness of occupiers to offer the highest rent to the municipality, tending to bring about the best system of husbandry, or, what is more probable, the best systems adapted for various purposes. Thus it is easily conceivable that it may prove advantageous to grow wheat in very large fields, involving united action under a capitalist farmer, or by a body of co- operators; while the cultivation of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, which requires closer and more personal care, and more of the artistic and inventive faculty, may possibly be best dealt with by individuals, or by small groups of individuals having a common belief in the efficacy and value of certain dressings, methods of culture, or artificial and natural surroundings....

While the town proper, with its population engaged in various trades, callings, and professions, and with a store or depot in each ward, offers the most natural market to the people engaged on the agricultural estate, inasmuch as to the extent to which the townspeople demand their produce they escape altogether any railway rates and charges; yet the farmers and others are not by any means limited to the town as their only market, but have the fullest right to dispose of their produce to whomsoever they please. Here, as in every feature of the experiment, it will be seen that it is not the area of rights which is contracted, but the area of choice which is enlarged....

Dotted about the estate are seen various charitable and philanthropic institutions. These are not under the control of the municipality, but are supported and managed by various public-spirited people who have been invited by the municipality to establish these institutions in an open healthy district, and on land let to them at a pepper-corn rent, it occurring to the authorities that they can the better afford to be thus generous, as the spending power of these institutions greatly benefits the whole community. Besides, as those persons who migrate to the town are among its most energetic and resourceful members, it is but just and right that their more helpless brethren should be able to enjoy the benefits of an experiment which is designed for humanity at large....

The problem with which we have now to deal, shortly stated, is this: How to make our Garden City experiment the stepping stone to a higher and better form of industrial life generally throughout the country. Granted the success of the initial experiment, and there must inevitably arise a widespread demand for an extension of methods so healthy and so advantageous; and it will be well, therefore, to consider some of the chief problems which will have to be faced in the progress of such extension.

It will, I think, be well, in approaching this question, to consider the analogy presented by the early progress of railway enterprise. This will help us to see more clearly some of the broader features of the new development which is now so close upon us if only we show ourselves energetic and imaginative. Railways were first made without any statutory powers. They were constructed on a very small scale, and, being of very short lengths, the consent of only one or at the most a few landowners was necessary; and what private agreement and arrangement could thus easily compass was scarcely a fit subject for an appeal to the Legislature of the country. But when the "Rocket" was built, and the supremacy of the locomotive was fully established, it then became necessary, if railway enterprise was to go forward, to obtain legislative powers. For it would have been impossible, or at least very difficult, to make equitable arrangements with all the landowners whose estates might lie between points many miles distant; because one obstinate landlord might take advantage of his position to demand an altogether exorbitant price for his land, and thus practically stifle such an enterprise. It was necessary, therefore, to obtain power to secure the land compulsorily at its market value, or at a price not too extravagantly removed from such value; and, this being done, railway enterprise went forward at so rapid a rate that in one year no less than £132,600,000 was authorized by Parliament to be raised for the purpose of railway construction.

Now, if Parliamentary powers were necessary for the extension of railway enterprise, such powers will certainly be also needed when the inherent practicability of building new, well planned towns, and of the population moving into them from the old slum cities as naturally, and, in proportion to the power to be exercised, almost as easily as a family moves out of a rotten old tenement into a new and comfortable dwelling, is once fairly recognized by the people. To build such towns, large areas of land must be obtained. Here and there a suitable site may be secured by arrangement with one or more landowners, but if the movement is to be carried on in anything like a scientific fashion, stretches of land far larger than that occupied by our first experiment must be obtained. For, just as the first short railway, which was the germ of railway enterprise, would convey to few minds the conception of a network of railways extending over the whole country, so, perhaps, the idea of a well planned town such as I have described will not have prepared the reader for the later development which must inevitably follow--the planning and building of town clusters--each town in the cluster being of different design from the others, and yet the whole forming part of one large and well-thought-out plan.

Let me here introduce a very rough diagram, representing, as I conceive, the true principle on which all towns should grow, Garden City has, we will suppose, grown until it has reached a population of 32,000. How shall it grow? How shall it provide for the needs of others who will be attracted by its numerous advantages? Shall it build on the zone of agricultural land which is around it, and thus for ever destroy its right to be called a 'Garden City'? Surely not. This disastrous result would indeed take place if the land around the town were, as is the land around our present cities, owned by private individuals anxious to make a profit out of it. For then, as the town filled up, the agricultural land would become 'ripe' for building purposes, and the beauty and healthfulness of the town would be quickly destroyed. But the land around Garden City is, fortunately, not in the hands of private individuals: it is in the hands of the people: and is to be administered, not in the supposed interests of the few, but in the real interests of the whole community. Now, there are few objects which the people so jealously guard as their parks and open spaces; and we may, I think, feel confident that the people of Garden City will not for a moment permit the beauty of their city to be destroyed by the process of growth. But it may be urged--if this be true, will not the inhabitants of Garden City in this way be selfishly preventing the growth of their city, and thus preclude many from enjoying its advantages? Certainly not. There is a bright, but overlooked, alternative. The town will grow; but it will grow in accordance with a principle which will result in this--that such growth shall not lessen or destroy, but ever add to its social opportunities, to its beauty, to its convenience. Consider for a moment the case of a city in Australia which in some measure illustrates the principle for which I am contending. The city of surrounded by its 'Park Lands'. The city is built up. How does it grow? It grows by leaping over the 'Park Lands' and establishing North Adelaide. And this is the principle which it is intended to follow, but improve upon, in Garden City.

Our diagram may now be understood. Garden City is built up. Its population has reached 32,000. How will it grow? It will grow by establishing--under Parliamentary powers probably--another city some little distance beyond its own zone of 'country', so that the new town may have a zone of country of its own. I have said 'by establishing another city', and, for administrative purposes there would be two cities; but the inhabitants of the one could reach the other in a very few minutes; for rapid transit would be specially provided for, and thus the people of the two towns would in reality represent one community.

And this principle of growth--this principle of always preserving a belt of country round our cities would be ever kept in mind till, in course of time, we should have a cluster of cities, not of course arranged in the precise geometrical form of my diagram, but so grouped around a Central City that each inhabitant of the whole group, though in one sense living in a town of small size, would be in reality living in, and would enjoy all the advantages of, a great and most beautiful city; and yet all the fresh delights of the country--field, hedgerow, and woodland--not prim parks and gardens merely--would be within a very few minutes' walk or ride. And because the people in their collective capacity own the land on which this beautiful group of cities is built, the public buildings, the churches, the schools and universities, the libraries, picture galleries, theatres, would be on a scale of magnificence which no city in the world whose land is in pawn to private individuals can afford.

I have said that rapid railway transit would be realized by those who dwell in this beautiful city or group of cities. Reference to the diagram will show at a glance the main features of its railway system. There is, first, an inter-municipal railway, connecting all the towns of the outer ring--twenty miles in circumference--so that to get from any town to its most distant neighbour requires one to cover a distance of only ten miles, which could be accomplished in, say, twelve minutes. These trains would not stop between the towns--means of communication for this purpose being afforded by electric tramways which traverse the high roads, of which, it will be seen, there are a number--each town being connected with every other town in the group by a direct route.

There is also a system of railways by which each town is placed in direct communication with Central City. The distance from any town to the heart of Central City is only three and a quarter miles, and this could be readily covered in five minutes.

Those who have had experience of the difficulty of getting from one suburb of London to another will see in a moment what an enormous advantage those who dwell in such a group of cities as here shown would enjoy, because they would have a railway system and not a railway chaos to serve their ends. The difficulty felt in London is of course due to want of forethought and pre-arrangement. On this point, I may quote with advantage a passage from the Presidential address of Sir Benjamin Baker to the Institute of Civil Engineers, 12th November 1895: 'We Londoners often complain of the want of system in the arrangement of the railways and their terminal stations in and around the Metropolis, which necessitates our performing long journeys in cabs to get from one railway system to another. That this difficulty exists, arises, I feel sure, chiefly from the want of forethought of no less able a statesman than Sir Robert Peel, for, in 1836, a motion was proposed in the House of Commons that all the Railway Bills seeking powers for terminals in London should be referred to a Special Committee, so that a complete scheme might be evolved out of the numerous projects before Parliament, and that property might not be unnecessarily sacrificed for rival schemes. Sir Robert Peel opposed the motion on the part of the Government, on the grounds that "no railway project could come into operation till the majority of Parliament had declared that its principles and arrangements appeared to them satisfactory, and its investments profitable." It was a recognized principle in these cases that the probable profits of an undertaking should be shown to be sufficient to maintain it in a state of permanent utility before a Bill could be obtained, and landlords were perfectly justified in expecting and demanding such a warranty from Parliament. In this instance, incalculable injury was unintentionally inflicted upon Londoners by not having a grand central station in the Metropolis, and events have shown how false was the assumption that the passing of an Act implied any warranty as to the financial prospects of a railway.

But are the people of England to suffer for ever for the want of foresight of those who little dreamed of the future development of railways? Surely not. It was in the nature of things little likely that the first network of railways ever constructed should conform to true principles; but now, seeing the enormous progress which has been made in the means of rapid communication, it is high time that we availed ourselves more fully of those means, and built our cities upon such some plan as that I have crudely shown. We should then be, for all purposes of quick communication, nearer to each other than we are in our crowded cities, while, at the same time, we should be surrounding ourselves with the most healthy and the most advantageous conditions.

Some of my friends have suggested that such a scheme of town clusters is well enough adapted to a new country, but that in an old-settled country, with its towns built and its railway 'system' for the most part constructed, it is quite a different matter. But surely to raise such a point is to contend, in other words, that the existing wealth forms of the country are permanent, and are forever to serve as hindrances to the introduction of better forms: that crowded, ill-ventilated, unplanned, unwieldy, unhealthy cities--ulcers on the very face of our beautiful island--are to stand as barriers to the introduction of towns in which modern scientific methods and the aims of social reformers may have the fullest scope in which to express themselves. No, it cannot, be, at least, it cannot be for long. What Is may hinder What Might Be for a while, but cannot stay the tide of progress. These crowded cities have done their work; they were the best which a society largely based on selfishness and rapacity could construct, but they are in the nature of things entirely unadapted for a society in which the social side of our nature is demanding a larger share of recognition--a society where even the very love of self leads us to insist upon a greater regard for the well-being of our fellows. The large cities of today are scarcely better adapted for the expression of the fraternal spirit than would a work on astronomy which taught that the earth was the centre of the universe be capable of adaptation for use in our schools. Each generation should build to suit its own needs; and it is no more in the nature of things that men should continue to live in old areas because their ancestors lived in them, than it is that they should cherish the old beliefs which a wider faith and a more enlarged understanding have outgrown. The reader is, therefore, earnestly asked not to take it for granted that the large cities in which he may perhaps take a pardonable pride are necessarily, in their present form, any more permanent than the stage-coach system which was the subject of so much admiration just at the very moment when it was about to be supplanted by the railways. The simple issue to be faced, and faced resolutely, is: Can better results be obtained by starting on a bold plan on comparatively virgin soil than by attempting to adapt our old cities to our newer and higher needs? Thus fairly faced, the question can only be answered in one way; and when that simple fact is well grasped, the social revolution will speedily commence.

That there is ample land in this country on which such a cluster as I have here depicted could be constructed with comparatively small disturbance of vested interests, and, therefore, with but little need for compensation, will be obvious to anyone; and, when our first experiment has been brought to a successful issue, there will be no great difficulty in acquiring the necessary Parliamentary powers to purchase the land and carry out the necessary works step by step. County Councils are now seeking larger powers, and an overburdened Parliament is becoming more and more anxious to devolve some of its duties upon them Let such powers be given more and more freely. Let larger and yet larger measures of local self-government be granted, and then all that my diagram depicts--only on a far better plan, because the result of well-concerted and combined thought--will be easily attainable.... 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail:
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