Garden Cities

The Architectural Review
3 September 2014

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“It has been 116 years since Ebenezer Howard published 'Garden Cities of To-morrow'. His highly influential satellite city model is moving once more towards the top of the British housing agenda. One manifestation of this tendency is that David Rudlin of URBED and his team have just won the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize for ‘Uxcester’ Garden City. The economics prize, which at £250,000 is second only to the Nobel Prize in value, saw 279 entrants submitting proposals for a new Garden City, with the proviso that their plans should be visionary, economically viable and popular. The award’s theme responds to the British Government’s plans to build a wave of Garden Cities across southern England.

While it has, in its purest form, inspired a few successful iterations – such as the quaint Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities in Hertfordshire – the principled but out-dated Garden City model persists to be twisted woefully into all manner of suburban anomalies across the globe. Howard’s vision was socialist at its core. An idealised world of light and air, the Garden City model countered the squalid urban living conditions and selfish motivations of industrial society. The vision, which advocated neat zoning and efficient connections in virgin urban centres, was a forerunner of mainstream modernism, influencing generations of 20th Century architects, planners and developers as they attempted to reconnect humanity with nature, decongest cities, and rebuild after World War II. Le Corbusier turned his nose up at the provincial Garden City but it retained an influence on his urban schemes – he famously announced his Ville Radieuse as a ‘vertical Garden City’.

However, laudable notions of a communal city were quickly forgotten as the Garden City’s mutant progeny, and the often interchangeable idea of the ‘garden suburb’, became a lucrative development model driven by consumption, which led to some of the most socially and culturally isolating examples of urban human habitat the world has seen. The model failed to improve the lives of the urban poor and instead deepened social and spatial division between wealthy suburban peripheries and declining cores. As such, it’s been a favourite tool of segregationist regimes...”