Ebenezer Howard (January 29, 1850 – May 1, 1928) was a prominent British urban planner. He founded the English Garden City Movement, which greatly influenced urban planning throughout the world. Concerned about the deteriorating conditions in large cities due to the rapid influx of large numbers of people, Howard recognized the need to plan housing and amenities to support the population. His personal experiences in both agricultural areas and urban environments led him to design the "garden city," which was intended to provide comfortable, affordable housing, arranged in ways to include nature.
Howard succeeded in having several such cities built, which have become outdated due to technological advances, but his ideas continue to inspire and inform. As advances in science, technology, and industry have threatened to lead to unhealthy living conditions, Howard's work can be seen as an effort to take into account the desire of human beings for progress without the loss of nature and the essential elements it brings to our lives.
Howard was born on January 29, 1850 in London, England, into a family of shopkeepers. He was educated first in Suffolk, then Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, and finally at Stoke Hall, Ipswich. At the age of 15, he started to work in different clerical positions, and at the age of 21, influenced by his uncle who was a farmer, he emigrated to the United States with the intention of farming.
Howard first settled in Howard County, Nebraska, but soon discovered he was not meant to be a farmer. He then moved to Chicago, and worked as a reporter for the courts and newspapers. The city was recovering from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which has destroyed most of the city's center and the business district. Howard witnessed first hand the planning and rebuilding of the city. In the U.S. he also admired and became acquainted with poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. At this time, Howard started to think about ways to improve the quality of life for people.
By 1876, he was back in England, where he found a job with Hansard, official Parliamentary reporters. He was responsible for recording the details of debates, committees, and commissions. He would spend the rest of his life in this occupation.
Howard visited America several times between 1876 and 1898 in an attempt to introduce the Remington typewriter to England. He was very much interested in inventions, and had a small workshop where he planned and developed his own inventions. In 1879, he married Elizabeth Ann Bills, with whom he had three daughters and a son, and eventually nine grandchildren.
In the 1880s Howard became increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy of the government and their inability to find solutions to the problems of housing and labor. The sanitation conditions in big cities were getting worse, as people moved to the cities from the countryside every day.
After reading in 1888 Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward, Howard became so inspired that he started to design his own plans for the cities of the future. In 1898, he published his Tomorrow a Peaceful Path to Real Reform, in which he described in details his plan of building a "garden city." Howard started to lecture around the country and advocated for his plan. By June 1899, the Garden City Association was inaugurated and met several times to discuss practical ways of implementing Howard’s plan. The first Garden City Association Conference was held in 1901.
Howard was an enthusiastic speaker of Esperanto, often using the language to give speeches.
In 1902 Howard revised and republished his book as Garden Cities of To-Morrow. In the same year, the Garden City Pioneer Company was founded, with the goal to locate and acquire land on which the proposed Garden City would be built. In 1903, land was purchased in Letchford Manor between Hitchin and Baldock in Hertfordshire.
In 1904, Howard’s wife died; he remarried in 1907. Howard moved to live in the first Garden City, Letchford, in 1905. He first lived in Norton Way South for some time, and moved to Homesgarth in 1911. He was elected first president of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Federation in 1913, and became an honorary member of the Town Planning Institute in 1914.
Howard moved to Welwyn Garden City in 1921, the second garden city he founded. There he remained until his death. He was knighted in 1927. He died on May 1, 1928 after suffering a chest infection and stomach cancer.
In his idea of garden cities, Howard was influenced by earlier attempts by wealthy industrialists to build healthy communities for their employees. The most notable were those by W. H. Lever (1851-1925) and George Cadbury (1839-1922), who built towns near their factories. Also, in the late 1880s a new movement in architecture was developed by John Ruskin and William Morris, which emphasized the integration of city and country.
On the other side, there was a problem of the growth of the Victorian industrial cities. Industrialization had drawn large numbers of people into the cities, promising better wages, more amusement, and more opportunities for social activities. However, with people migrating in, the cities became overcrowded; the rent and prices grew high, and the housing turned inadequate to support all the people. The lack of adequate water supplies, poor sewage systems, poverty, and slum living conditions led to disease.
In this context, Howard developed his ideas. He published his book in 1898, entitled To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, which was reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-Morrow. This book offered a vision of towns free of slums and enjoying the benefits of both town—such as opportunity, amusement and high wages, and country—such as beauty, fresh air and low rents. He illustrated the idea with his famous Three Magnets diagram, which addressed the question “Where will the people go?” The three choices, or “three magnets” were “Town,” “Country,” or “Town-Country.”
Howard called for the creation of new suburban towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land. Howard believed that such garden cities were the perfect blend of city and nature. The towns would be largely independent, and managed and financed by the citizens who had an economic interest in them. He proposed that garden cities be located in clusters around the central cities, interconnected and sharing leisure facilities and services.
Howard’s ideas attracted enough attention and financial backing to begin in early 1900s the Letchworth Garden City, a suburban garden city north of London. A second garden city, Welwyn Garden City, was started after World War I. His contact with German architects Hermann Muthesius and Bruno Taut resulted in the application of humane design principles in many large housing projects built in the Weimar years.
The idea of the “garden city” was influential not only in Great Britain, but also in different countries around the world. In the U.S. garden cites have been built in Sunnyside, Queens; Radburn, New Jersey; Jackson Heights, Queens; the Woodbourne neighborhood of Boston; Garden City, Long Island in New York City; and Baldwin Hills Village (the Village Green) in Los Angeles. In Canada there is Walkerville, Ontario; in Germany a large amount of worker housing was built in the Weimar years; and again in England after World War II when the New Towns Act triggered the development of many new communities based on Howard's egalitarian vision. There were more than 30 communities built in Britain, the first being Stevenage, Hertfordshire and the latest (and largest) being Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire.
The garden city movement also influenced the British urbanist Patrick Geddes in the planning of Tel-Aviv, Israel. Howard's ideas also inspired other planners such as Frederick Law Olmsted II and Clarence Perry. Walt Disney used elements of Howard’s concepts in his original design for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT).
The organization Howard founded in 1899 under the name of Garden Cities Association, is now known as the Town and Country Planning Association, and is the oldest environmental charity in England.
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