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Ebenezer Howard

Ebenezer Howard



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Ebenezer Howard, the third child and only son of Ebenezer Howard, was born at 62 Fore Street in London on 29th January 1850. Four of the nine Howard children died in infancy. His father owned several shops in the city. According to one source: "Ebenezer senior was a healthy, energetic and hard-working man whose day's labour began at 3.00 a.m. and lasted into the evening. His vitality was matched by a strong constitution and it was his proud boast that he had never suffered from a headache in over seventy years."

Howard was educated at private boarding-schools, first at Sudbury, then at Cheshunt and finally at Ipswich. He had a moderate academic career and was much more interested in his hobbies that included drawing, swimming, cricket, stamp collecting and photography. His reading appears to have been limited to the Boys' Own Magazine.

In 1865 Ebenezer Howard left school and found work in Greaves and Son, stockbrokers, of Warnford Court, London. His duties were mainly to copy out letters into a book using a quill pen. This was followed by employment as a junior clerk. During this period he taught himself Pitman's shorthand. This gave him the skills needed to work in solicitors' offices, first with E. Kimber of Winchester Buildings, and then Pawle, Livesey and Fearon whose offices were near Temple Bar. This was followed by becoming the private secretary to the preacher, Joseph Parker.

At the age of twenty-one Ebenezer Howard decided to emigrate to the United States. After a failed attempt to become a farmer in Nebraska, he became a stenographer in Chicago. Howard also became interested in political issues. He read the works of Tom Paine and began calling himself a "freethinker". Howard later commented: "I am, indeed, as my friends know, a man of some faith; but I am also - perhaps the combination is somewhat rare - a terrible sceptic." Alonzo Griffin, a Quaker, introduced him to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman and James Russell Lowell.

Ebenezer Howard also became concerned with the subject of social reform. He was especially impressed with the experiments being carried out by Frederick Law Olmsted. He had designed the town of Riverside. As John Moss-Eccardt has pointed out: "Planned by Frederick Law Olmsted, this town had 700 of its 16,000 acres devoted to green roads, borders, parks and other features which produced a pleasing blend of town and country. Within this environment the Riverside citizen could pursue rural activities in congenial surroundings which combined the benefits of both worlds."

In 1876 Howard returned to London where he found work as a stenographer working in the House of Commons. Eventually he established his own business in Carey Street and in 1879 he married Elizabeth Ann Bills of Nuneaton. Over the next seven years she had four children, Cecil, Edith, Kathleen and Margery. A fifth died in infancy. According to the author of Ebenezer Howard (1973): "Their home life was very happy and Mrs Howard managed the family finances expertly... The couple were never irritable or annoyed with the children and the shortage of money seems to have made no difference at all to their enjoyment of life."

Howard became very interested in social reform. In 1879 Howard joined the Zetetical Society, a philosophical and sociological debating group, which met weekly in the rooms of the Women's Protective & Provident League in Long Acre and got to know fellow members, George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb. He was also influenced by the work of William Blake, Thomas Spence, Henry George, William Morris, John Ruskin and Peter Kropotkin. He was especially impressed with George's Progress and Poverty and Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops.

In 1889 Howard read Looking Backward, a novel by Edward Bellemy. Set in Boston, the book's hero, Julian West, falls into a hypnotic sleep and wakes in the year 2000, to find he is living in a socialist utopia where people co-operate rather than compete. Edward W. Younkins has argued: "This novel of social reform was published in 1888, a time when Americans were frightened by working class violence and disgusted by the conspicuous consumption of the privileged minority. Bitter strikes occurred as labor unions were just beginning to appear and large trusts dominated the nation’s economy. The author thus employs projections of the year 2000 to put 1887 society under scrutiny. Bellamy presents Americans with portraits of a desirable future and of their present day. He defines his perfect society as the antithesis of his current society. Looking Backward embodies his suspicion of free markets and his admiration for centralized planning and deliberate design."

Howard later commented: "This I read at a sitting, not at all critically, and was fairly carried away by the eloquence and evidently strong convictions of the author. This book graphically pictured the whole American nation organised on co-operative principles-this mighty change coming about with marvellous celerity-the necessary mental and ethical changes having previously occurred with equal rapidity. The next morning as I went up to the City from Stamford Hill I realised, as never before, the splendid possibilities of a new civilisation based on service to the community and not on self-interest, at present the dominant motive. Then I determined to take such part as I could, however small it might be, in helping to bring a new civilisation into being."

As a first step he persuaded William Reeves, a radical Fleet Street publisher, to bring out an English edition, but only by offering to take the first 100 copies. Howard also began thinking of what his utopia would look like. As Mervyn Miller, the author of English Garden Cities: An Introduction (2010) has pointed out: "Howard's objective was to find a remedy for overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in the fast-growing industrial cities, and the accompanying rural depopulation and agricultural depression. He believed access to the countryside to be necessary for the complete physical and social development of humankind. It was no longer acceptable for urban development to be left to the minimally regulated private enterprise of landowners and industrialists. In taking evidence for royal commissions, Howard had been impressed by the unanimity of opinion of labour and capital over the failure of the city to provide decent housing and working conditions. Howard's solution was to provide a new form of settlement as a vehicle for radical social and environmental reform. He proposed the development of new towns, not for individual or corporate profit, but for the benefit of the whole community. These, the garden cities, were to be both residential and industrial, well planned, of limited size and population, and surrounded by a permanent rural belt, integrating the best aspects of town and country. Each garden city was to be self-contained, and built on land purchased by trustees, and used as an asset, against which the cost of development would be raised. The value of the land would increase, and periodic revaluation of the plots leased to individuals would reap the benefit for the community, with dividends to shareholders in the enterprise limited to 5 per cent."

Over the next ten years Howard worked on producing the blueprint of his "path to peaceful reform". John Moss-Eccardt has argued: "The work was done at odd times gleaned from the hours spent in the very necessary business of making a living. He wrote on the dining table, often during meals, at Kyverdale Road, Stoke Newington, and copies were typed by a cousin because he couldn't afford to pay a professional typist. As the work grew he circulated the typescript to friends both in local government and in the church. In spite of great interest in his ideas from various sections of his circle, the book remained in typescript form as no one would risk its publication; but fate seemed to take a hand when help came from a friend known to Howard and his wife through a common interest in religion."

George Dickman, a friend of the family, gave Howard £50 so that he could get the finished manuscript published. Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform was published in October 1898. Howard later admitted, "my friends and supporters never regarded this book, any more than I did, as more than a sketch or outline of what we hoped to accomplish". The Times praised his ideas but dismissed them as impractical: "The only difficulty is to create such a City, but that is a small matter to Utopians".

Howard argues in Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform that he hopes to build what he calls a Garden City: "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 at 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."

Howard then went on to claim that the "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.... 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."

George Dickman, a friend of the family, gave Howard £50 so that he could get the finished manuscript published. The Times praised his ideas but dismissed them as impractical: "The only difficulty is to create such a City, but that is a small matter to Utopians".

Ebenezer Howard's friend, George Bernard Shaw, described him as an amazing man who deserved a knighthood and supported his efforts. Walter Crane was another socialist who fully supported his proposals. However, other members of the Fabian Society were much more critical. They disliked the way that Howard criticised socialist views on the role of the state in town planning. Howard admitted that he approved of some of the values of the left: "Communism is a most excellent principle, and all of us are Communists in some degree, even those who would shudder at being told so. For we all believe in communistic roads, communistic parks, and communistic libraries. But though Communism is an excellent principle. Individualism is no less excellent. A great orchestra which enraptures us with its delightful music is composed of men and women who are accustomed not only to play together, but to practise separately, and to delight themselves and their friends by their own, it may be comparatively, feeble efforts. Nay, more: isolated and individual thought and action are as essential, if the best results of combination are to be secured, as combination and co-operation are essential, if the best results of isolated effort are to be gained. It is by isolated thought that new combinations are worked out; it is through the lessons learned in associated effort that the best individual work is accomplished; and that society will prove the most healthy and vigorous where the freest and fullest opportunities are afforded alike for individual and for combined effort."

Ebenezer Howard went on to argue: "Men love combined effort, but they love individual effort, too, and they will not be content with such few opportunities for personal effort as they would be allowed to make in a rigid socialistic community. Men do not object to being organized under competent leadership, but some also want to be leaders, and to have a share in the work of organizing; they like to lead as well as to be led. Besides, one can easily imagine men filled with a desire to serve the community in some way which the community as a whole did not at the moment appreciate the advantage of, and who would be precluded by the very constitution of the socialistic state from carrying their proposals into effect."

Socialists tended to want to reform existing towns and cities. The Fabian News commented: "His plans would have been in time if they had been submitted to the Romans when they conquered Britain. They set about laying out cities, and our forefathers have dwelt in them to this day. Now Mr Howard proposes to pull them down and substitute garden cities, each duly built according to pretty coloured plans, nicely designed with a ruler and compass. The author has read many learned and interesting writers, and the extracts he makes from their books are like plums in the unpalatable dough of his Utopian scheming. We have got to make the best of our existing cities, and proposals for building new ones are about as useful as would be arrangements for protection against visits from Mr Wells's Martians."

On 10th June 1899, Ebenezer Howard and his friends established the Garden City Association. The Association organised lectures on "garden cities as a solution of the housing problem" which were addressed "to educational, social, political, co-operative, municipal, religious and temperance societies and institutions". Important members included Edward Grey, William Lever, Edward Cadbury, Ralph Neville, Thomas Howell Idris and Aneurin Williams.

In 1900 the Garden City Limited was established with share capital of £50,000. The following year a conference was held at Bournville which three hundred delegates attended. Over a thousand attended the national conference at Port Sunlight in June 1902. Howard's book was now reissued as Garden Cities of Tomorrow. By 1903 the Garden City Association had over 2,500 members. The Garden City Pioneer Company was constituted, with Howard as managing director, to find a suitable site for the first garden city. In 1903 Howard purchased 3,818 acres in Letchworth for £155,587.

Ebenezer Howard employed Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker as the architects responsible for building Letchworth Garden City. Both men were greatly interested in social reform and had been greatly influenced by John Ruskin and William Morris. They had previously been employed by Joseph Rowntree to establish an estate for his workers in New Earswick. As John Moss-Eccardt pointed out: "Both young men wanted to express their convictions, which were greatly influenced by Ruskin and Morris, in visual architecture... This was an important part of the social reform movement, more than a mere alleviation of poor housing and environmental conditions in industrial towns. It ranked as a forerunner of garden cities in that it paid attention deliberately to creating an environment which promoted health and happiness in its inhabitants."

Unwin explained: "The successful setting out of such a work as a new city will only be accomplished by the frank acceptance of the natural conditions of the site; and, humbly bowing to these, by the fearless following out of some definite and orderly design based on them ... such natural features should be taken as the keynote of the composition; but beyond this there must be no meandering in a false imitation of so-called natural lines."

Parker held strong views on creating a beautiful environment. He believed that the destruction of a single tree should be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. It was decided that it was important to make full "use of the undulating nature of the terrain to provide vistas and prospects. By grouping numbers of houses together it was possible to have large gaps between the groups, thus providing views of gardens, countryside or buildings beyond."

Andrew Saint has argued: "The concept of the self-sufficient garden city promoted by Howard in Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1898–1902) having been entirely diagrammatic, Unwin was in effect asked to endow Letchworth with an image and identity. This raised issues of industrial and civic planning, phasing, and investment on a scale that no British architect had hitherto faced. The plan was revised in 1905–6, when work at Letchworth commenced. The housing areas got the earliest attention, Unwin tackling road layout, grouping, plot size, style, and supervision with originality and a remarkable perception of the complex issues. But Letchworth's civic centre, which was allotted an axial approach perhaps derived from Wren's plan for rebuilding London, grew too slowly for the ideas of Parker and Unwin to be carried through, and remains a grave disappointment. Despite Unwin's critical role at Letchworth, where he lived between 1904 and 1906, he never identified wholly with Howard's obsession with autonomous garden cities on virgin sites detached from metropolitan influence, and indeed left further work at Letchworth to Parker after 1914."

Elizabeth Howard died in the late autumn of 1904. Howard moved to a house in Norton Way South in Letchworth Garden City. On 25th March 1907 he remarried; his second wife, Edith Hayward, a 42-year-old spinster. During these years Letchworth continued to grow. Howard did what he could to develop a community spirit. Activities ranged from Arbor Days (a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant and care for trees), May Day festivities, amateur dramatics and poetry readings.

The aftermath of the First World War brought government involvement with the provision of working-class housing, through grants made to local authorities under the 1919 Housing Act. However, Howard was disappointed by the lack of commitment to the building of new self-contained communities by state or private enterprise and decided to look for a place to build a second Garden City. Eventually, Howard purchased 1,458 acres in Hertfordshire.

On 29th April 1920 a company, Welwyn Garden City Limited, was formed to plan and build the garden city. Louis de Soissons was appointed as architect and town planner and the first house was occupied just before Christmas 1920. To support it in its early years, Howard moved to 5 Guessens Road on the estate. In twelve years Welwyn Garden became a flourishing town of nearly 10,000 residents.

According to his biographer, Mervyn Miller: "Howard remained a poor man all his life, receiving little monetary return from his directorships at Letchworth and Welwyn. He was devoid of personal ambition, but had a remarkable gift of inspiring other people. Being absolutely convinced of the rightness of his ideas, he was driven by an ardent enthusiasm. Neither a professional town planner nor a financier, he convinced town planners and financiers of the practical soundness of his ideas, but readily accepted their expertise in carrying his concepts into practice... Public recognition came late in life: he was appointed OBE in 1924 and knighted in 1927." George Bernard Shaw described him as "one of those heroic simpletons who do big things whilst our prominent worldlings are explaining why they are Utopian and impossible. And of course it is they who will make money out of his work".

Ebenezer Howard died on 1st May, 1928.

It has often been said that Howard invented garden cities and attention has been drawn to the similarity between the methods of the inventor of mechanical devices and the way in which the garden city idea came about. There can be no disagreement concerning the pre-eminently practical approach which he adopted towards the problems which interested him. Coupled with this was an apparent lack of self-interest which enabled him to see his objectives clearly and uncluttered by the impaired judgement that self-seeking produces.

Living in an age where social stratigraphy was more rigid than in our own, he seems to have been untroubled by social pretensions or aspirations, being more concerned with the lot of the less fortunate than for himself. This attitude must surely have stemmed from his religious convictions which were strong but not sectarian, his liberal political views, and an idealism strongly tinged with a pinch of scepticism.... Finally, we might add the lack of a sophisticated higher education to the advantages enjoyed by this observer of the chaos and squalor of late nineteenth-century industrial England. In contrast, many of his contemporaries had allowed their minds to become filled to bursting with the copious outpourings of the reformers of this and previous centuries.

Through his church connections and his professional contacts Howard became conversant with leading questions of the day and their protagonists. Subjects ranged over religion and science, politics, poverty and riches, economics, urban congestion, and the decline of the countryside. He became involved in discussions on these topics but was especially interested in questions of social significance. He went to the heart of the matter when he wrote in his book: "Religious and political questions too often divide us into hostile camps- and so in the very realms where calm, dispassionate thought and pure emotions are the essentials of all advance towards right beliefs and sound principles of action, the din of battle and the struggles of contending hosts are more forcibly suggested to the onlooker than the really sincere love of truth and love of country which, one may yet be sure, animate nearly all breasts."

By temperament Ebenezer Howard was as capable of championing a cause as those with whom he debated but he was able to stand a little apart and assess the value of what he had learnt, just as the inventor must prove his various modifications before adapting them. Thus, little by little, a recipe was concocted from the various ideas which he heard and tested against his common sense. One may imagine him like a small boat steering his way through the shoals of opinions always holding to his course until he reaches harbour.

The reader is asked to imagine an estate embracing an area of 6,000 acres... 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 works-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. 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.... 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 difficulty felt about Communism, or even about any fairly complete Socialism, is that it interferes with man's freedom to make demands for his many-sided nature, and to endeavour to satisfy those demands. It secures bread to all, perhaps, but it ignores the doctrine that man shall not live by bread alone. The future probably lies with those who, instead of pitting against one another, Socialism and Individualism, will seek to realize a true, vital, organic conception of Society and of the State in which both Individualism and Socialism will have their proper share. The bark which carries civilized man with his fortunes will thus steer an even course between the Scylla of anarchy and the Charybdis of despotism.

Probably the chief cause of failure in former social experiments has been a misconception of the principal element in the problem - human nature itself. The degree of strain which average human nature will bear in an altruistic direction has not been duly considered by those who have essayed the task of suggesting new forms of social organization. A kindred mistake has arisen from regarding one principle of action to the exclusion of others. Take Communism, for instance. Communism is a most excellent principle, and all of us are Communists in some degree, even those who would shudder at being told so. It is by isolated thought that new combinations are worked out; it is through the lessons learned in associated effort that the best individual work is accomplished; and that society will prove the most healthy and vigorous where the freest and fullest opportunities are afforded alike for individual and for combined effort.

Now, do not the whole series of communistic experiments owe their failure largely to this-that they have not recognized this duality of principle, but have carried one principle, excellent enough in itself, altogether too far? They have assumed that because common property is good, all property should be common; that because associated effort can produce marvels, individual effort is to be regarded as dangerous, or at least futile, some extremists even seeking to abolish altogether the idea of the family or home. No reader will confuse the experiment here advocated with any experiment in absolute Communism.

Nor is the scheme to be regarded as a socialistic experiment. Socialists, who may be regarded as Communists of a more moderate type, advocate common property in land and in all the instruments of production, distribution, and exchange-railways, machinery, factories, docks, banks, and the like; but they would preserve the principle of private ownership in all such things as have passed in the form of wages to the servants of the community, with the proviso, however, that these wages shall not be employed in organized creative effort, involving the employment of more than one person; for all forms of employment with a view to remuneration should, as the Socialists contend, be under the direction of some recognized department of the Government, which is to claim a rigid monopoly. But it is very doubtful whether this principle of the Socialist, in which there is a certain measure of recognition of the individual side of man's nature as well as of his social side, represents a basis on which an experiment can fairly proceed with the hope of permanent success. Two chief difficulties appear to present themselves. First, the self-seeking side of man-his too frequent desire to produce, with a view to possessing for his own personal use and enjoyment; and, secondly, his love of independence and of initiative, his personal ambition, and his consequent unwillingness to put himself under the guidance of others for the whole of his working day, with little opportunity of striking out some independent line of action, or of taking a leading part in the creation of new forms of enterprise.

Now, even if we pass over the first difficulty - that of human self-seeking - even if we assume that we have a body of men and women who have realized the truth that concerted social effort will achieve far better results in enjoyable commodities for each member of the community than can possibly be achieved by ordinary competitive methods-each struggling for himself-we have still the other difficulty, arising out of the higher and not the lower nature of the men and women who are to be organized-their love of independence and of initiative. Men love combined effort, but they love individual effort, too, and they will not be content with such few opportunities for personal effort as they would be allowed to make in a rigid socialistic community. Besides, one can easily imagine men filled with a desire to serve the community in some way which the community as a whole did not at the moment appreciate the advantage of, and who would be precluded by the very constitution of the socialistic state from carrying their proposals into effect.

His plans would have been in time if they had been submitted to the Romans when they conquered Britain. We have got to make the best of our existing cities, and proposals for building new ones are about as useful as would be arrangements for protection against visits from Mr Wells's Martians.

The Fabian comment was more than unkind: it was unfair and showed a complete inability to understand the plan. The book was the mere beginning of a campaign and a practical means of working out his ideas. For mechanical working parts he substituted words and from these emerged a scheme as real as any of his mechanical concepts. Before the book appeared many people were already won over to the garden city idea and after publication Howard and his followers embarked on a series of lectures to further his project, for it was his aim to bring a garden city into being. It must be admitted, however, that the book did not become a best-seller, nor did its author receive any recognition by those who specialised in political, economic or sociological matters. Those very factors which enabled him to see clearly with eyes unbiased by preconceptions, in particular his lack of academic background, kept him out of the charmed circle of the Establishment. Once the garden city became a physical reality, it could not be ignored-it was a social phenomenon.


Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), Visionary & City Planner


Sir Ebenezer Howard was an English city planner and designer of the two English "Garden Cities", as well as the founder of the Garden City Movement.[c] He lived a brief time in Nebraska in 1872.[1] He was an influential figure in the realm of urban planning around the turn of the century, with a focus on marrying town and country.[1][14][c]

Howard was born in London, England on January 29,1850.[10][11] After growing up in boarding schools, he began working in business at age 15, soon teaching himself shorthand and becoming a shorthand clerk in London.[2]


Around 1872, Ebenezer Howard left England with two friends to homestead in Nebraska, intending to be a farmer.[2][5][9] He may have been inspired by his uncle, who was a farmer in England.[9] Howard and his friends joined a small party of Irish Canadians in Des Moines on their way to a location outside of Farwell, Nebraska.[5][7] His 160 acre homestead happened to be in Howard County, Nebraska.[5][a] The winter of 1873 was a difficult one in Howard County, and Ebenezer Howard quickly determined that he did not want to be a farmer. However, several sources imply that emigrating to Nebraska in his youth helped establish many of his lifelong beliefs that progress could involve incorporating Nebraska-like open spaces and agriculture into English cities.[4][7][15][17][18] 19th century Nebraskan landscape architect Lawrence Enersen said, "this man whose ideas changed the course of town planning around the world, got the kernel of his idea from his brief but impressive stay in Nebraska in 1872."[17] In the spring, only a few months after arriving, Howard left Nebraska for Chicago to find work as a stenographer.[2][6][7] Ebenezer Howard returned to England in 1876, where he resumed work as a shorthand clerk, this time for the official shorthand writers to the House of Parliament.[2]


In 1898, Howard published his book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (later republished as Garden Cities of To-morrow), which introduced his approach to a new kind of urban planning and initiated the Garden City Movement.[2] With a goal to build his garden city in England, he needed to finances to buy the land. The next year, Howard founded the Town and Country Planning Association, referred to as the TCPA, so that he could gather the money he needed.[9][12][14] The association “represented a fusion of ideas about social justice, beauty in design, health and wellbeing and economic efficiency.” [12][c] In 1899, the TCPA created First Garden City, Ltd. to build the garden city of Letchworth in 1903.[14][d] In 1919, Howard bought the land to build Welwyn Garden City.[14] Dozens of other English and some U.S. cities have been built using the garden-city design, as well as other cities around the world, such as the 1980 garden city of Almere, Netherlands.[9][15][17][e]

"Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization." (Ebenezer Howard, 1898)


Howard married Eliza Ann Bills, and they had three daughters and a son.[11][16] After Eliza's death, he remarried in 1908.[16] Ebenezer Howard died on May 1, 1928 in Letchworth Garden City, England.[10][11]


Connected People

  • F. Lee Ackerman - contributor
  • Thomas Adams - Scots surveyor interested in rural regeneration was appointed Secretary
  • George Cadbury hosted the first Garden City Association Conference was held in 1901. Principal shareholder
  • Walter Elias "Walt" Disney (December 5, 1901 – December 15, 1966) used elements of Howard's concepts in his original design for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).
  • Earl Grey, Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland a patron of the Garden City movement.
  • A. Harmsworth (proprietor of the Daily Mail). - principal shareholder
  • T.H.W. Idris - on the board
  • Arthur W Kenyon 1885 - 1969 was an English architect who worked with Louis de Soissons at Welwyn Garden City for eighteen years designing many of the houses there.
  • H Claphham Lander - contributor (Designer of the co-operative flats in Sollershott East).
  • W.H Lever - principal shareholder
  • Adam Gottlieb Hermann Muthesius (20 April 1861 – 29 October 1927), known as Hermann Muthesius, was a German architect, author and diplomat, perhaps best known for promoting many of the ideas of the English Arts and Crafts movement within Germany and for his subsequent influence on early pioneers of German architectural modernism such as the Bauhaus.
  • Ralph Neville K.C. was recruited to the Association and subsequently elected chairman. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Times/1918/Obituary/Ralph_Neville
  • Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (July 24, 1870 – December 25, 1957) was an American landscape architect who is best known for his wildlife conservation efforts. He had a lifetime commitment to national parks, and worked on projects in Acadia, the Everglades and Yosemite National Park.
  • Sir Frederic James Osborn (1885�) was a leading member of the UK Garden city movement and was chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association. He lived in Welwyn Garden City, the garden city he helped create, and a local school (Sir Frederic Osborn School) was named after him in 1968.
  • Richard Barry Parker (18 November 1867 – 21 February 1947) was an English architect and urban planner associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. He was primarily known for his architectural partnership with Raymond Unwin.
  • H.D.Pearsall a civil engineer - on the board
  • Bernard Shaw also made a contribution

Louis E J G de Savoie-Carignan de Soissons CVO RA FRIBA (1890�), was the younger son of Charles, the Count de Soissons. An architect, he was called for professional purposes Louis de Soissons. The first major commission of the practice he set up (Louis de Soissons Partnership) was the 'master plan' (so-called - a very early use of the term) for Welwyn Garden City (1920). de Soissons was born in Montreal, Canada, but moved in childhood with his family to London. In 1913 he won the first year of the Henry Jarvis scholarship of the Royal Institute of British Architects, enabling three years of European travel and study.

  • Clarence Arthur Perry (1872-Sept 6, 1944[1]) was an American planner, sociologist, author, and educator. He was born in Truxton, New York. He later worked in the New York City planning department where he became a strong advocate of the Neighbourhood unit. He was an early promoter of neighbourhood community and recreation centres.
  • Bruno Julius Florian Taut (4 May 1880 – 24 December 1938), was a prolific German architect, urban planner and author active during the Weimar period.
  • Sir Raymond Unwin (1863 – 1940) was a prominent and influential English engineer, architect and town planner, with an emphasis on improvements in working class housing.
  • Henry Harvey Vivian (20 April 1868 – 30 May 1930) was an English trade unionist, Lib–Lab, later Liberal Party politician and campaigner for industrial democracy and co-partnership, especially noted for his work in co-partnership housing.
  • Herbert Warren the Pioneer Companies solicitor

Developments influenced by the Garden city movement

  • Glenrothes, United Kingdom
  • Bedford Park, London, United Kingdom
  • Covaresa, Valladolid, Spain
  • Den-en-chᓟu, Ōta, Tokyo, Japan
  • Hellerau, Dresden, Germany
  • Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong
  • Marino, Dublin, Ireland
  • Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom
  • Pinelands, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Village Homes, Davis, California, United States
  • Reston, Virginia, United States
  • St Helier, London, United Kingdom
  • Tapiola, Finland
  • Telford, United Kingdom
  • The Garden Village, Kingston upon Hull

Worldwide inspired development

United States

  • the Woodbourne neighborhood of Boston
  • Newport News,
  • Virginia's Hilton Village
  • Pittsburgh's Chatham Village
  • Garden City, New York
  • Sunnyside, Queens
  • Jackson Heights, Queens
  • Forest Hills Gardens, also in the borough of Queens, New York
  • Radburn, New Jersey
  • Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Buckingham in Arlington County,
  • Virginia the Lake Vista neighbourhood in New Orleans
  • Norris, Tennessee
  • Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles
  • Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights

Greendale, Wisconsin is one of three "greenbelt" towns planned beginning in 1935 under the direction of Rexford Guy Tugwell

The two other greenbelt towns are Greenbelt, Maryland (near Washington, D.C.) and Greenhills, Ohio (near Cincinnati).

The greenbelt towns not only provided work and affordable housing, but also served as a laboratory for experiments in innovative urban planning. Greendale's plan was designed between 1936 and 1937 by a staff headed by Joseph Crane, Elbert Peets, Harry Bentley, and Walter C. Thomas.

Canada

In Ontario the following are, in part, garden cities.-

  • Kapuskasing,
  • Don Mills (now incorporated into the City of Toronto) and
  • Walkerville

The historic Townsite of Powell River, British Columbia is a nationally recognised historic district built upon the Garden City Movement.

  • The ancient city of Chan Chan (20 km², 850 AD) in Trujillo, north of Lima, and
  • the Inca's 12th-century city of Machu Picchu, were designed as garden cities.
  • Peru's modern capital, Lima, was designed as a garden city in 1535 by Spanish Conquistadors to replace its ancient past as a religious sanctuary with 37 pyramids.
  • More recently, in 1966, the 'Residencial San Felipe' in the Lima's district of Jesus Maria was built using the Garden City concepts

Brazil

In São Paulo several neighbourhoods were planned as Garden Cities,

  • Jardim América,
  • Jardim Europa,
  • Alto da Lapa,
  • Alto de Pinheiros,
  • Jardim da Sa﫞 and
  • Cidade Jardim (Garden City in Portuguese).

Goiânia, capital of Goiás state, is an example of Garden City.

Argentina

  • Ciudad Jardín Lomas del Palomar, declared by the influential Argentinian professor of engineering, Carlos Mar໚ della Paolera, founder of "D໚ Mundial del Urbanismo" (World Urbanism Day), as the first Garden City in South America.

Australia

  • the suburb of Colonel Light Gardens in Adelaide, South Australia, was designed according to garden city principles.
  • The town of Sunshine, which is now a suburb of Melbourne in Victoria.
  • Canberra (capital of Australia established in 1913)

India

Philippines

Quezon City (established in 1939, capital of the Philippines from 1948�).

Vietnam

Morocco

Bhutan

  • capital city Thimphu the new plan, following the Principles of Intelligent Urbanism, is an organic response to the fragile ecology. Using sustainable concepts, it is a contemporary response to the garden city concept.

Israel

The Garden City movement also influenced the Scottish urbanist Sir Patrick Geddes in the planning of Tel-Aviv, Israel, in the 1920s, during the British Mandate for Palestine. Geddes started his Tel Aviv plan in 1925 and submitted the final version in 1927, so all growth of this garden city during the 1930s was merely "based" on the Geddes Plan.


Ebenezer Howard - History

In recognition of the first 100 years of city planning as a profession, APA has selected 100 essential books of planning. While I think the word “ essential ” may be a little strong, considering that most professional planners have probably only read a handful of these, this is a nice departure point for some summer reading. Thanks to Google and the University of Michigan and Harvard libraries, we can download the ones with expired copyrights for free (beats the $$ for some of these used on Amazon).

Ebenezer Howard would be an intriguing place to start, going back to the turn of the 19th century. Pretty much excoriated by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s as a “ decentralist ” utopian against real cities, he still has many defenders today. Robert Fishman attributes the more contemporary concepts of transit-oriented development and urban growth boundaries to Howard: “ Calthorpe's Portland regional plan is basically Ebenezer Howard's Social City, with some new color graphics .” Peter Hall sees Howard has an anarchist, something he appreciates, and insists that contemporary planning could gain from returning to its garden city roots. Presented here are my reactions to reading Garden Cities of To-morrow for myself, and hopefully I’ll convince you to download a copy for yourself too.

The famous part of the book is the first chapter, where the plans for the Garden City are laid out, but it only makes sense in light of some more foundational principles revealed in subsequent chapters. He goes right into giving precise prescriptions for the new city, down to acreage and expenses. 6000 acres of cheap rural land are to be purchased, 1000 of which are reserved for the city. A 32,000 person population cap is set, after which a new city will have to be colonized.

As far as the design goes, Howard wants to make it as little like the overcrowded London of his day as possible, so public parks and private lawns are everywhere. The roads are incredibly wide, ranging from 120 to 420 feet for the Grand Avenue, and they are radial rather than linear. Commercial, industrial, residential, and public uses are clearly differentiated from each other spatially.

The overall goal for Howard is to combine the traditional countryside with the traditional town. For too long residents have had to make the unfulfilling choice between living in a culturally isolated rural area or giving up nature to live in a city, but " human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together ." As he sees it, in a rather Hegelian fashion if you ask me, the two " magnets " of Town and Country that have in the past pulled people in either direction will, in the future, be synthesized into one " Town-Country magnet ." Someone just needs to build the first one.

As fantastical as the first chapter hits us (or me at least, especially a " crystal palace " element), Howard is completely earnest in his attempts to get it built. In fact, most of the book can be read as a business model being pitched to potential investors. He assures interested parties that he can get them a 4.5% return. Howard makes it clear that he is not a socialist, and he does not see centralized government playing an initial role. The closest thing I can relate his plan to is a homeowners' association on steroids, he calls it a " quasi-public body ," which owns all the land of the city and leases it out to residents. The financial linchpin of the plan is the fact that all of the land is purchased up front, so that the increase in property values generated by the growth will be captured by the community itself. He also assumes that if everything is planned rationally from the beginning, the costly process of retrofitting old infrastructure for new technology can be avoided.

A few philosophical commitments jumped out to me right away as integral to his whole project. First, Howard deliberately tries to steer a course been collective and individual authority, a basic paradox he sees as rooted in human nature. He suggests a pragmatic approach to sorting out where the impetus should be placed. If the municipal authorities do a good job they should keep doing it, otherwise it should be handed over to private enterprise. Ultimately, he sees these two spheres are headed in the same direction. " There is a path along which sooner or later, both the Individualist and the Socialist must inevitably travel ." And it leads right to the Garden City. There's the historically progressive synthesis again.

Howard's enthusiastic embrace of progress just drips from every page. He even sees human beings becoming less selfish, as modern advances in science and technology open up frontiers of human flourishing. Newer is better, just as the railroad is better than the stagecoach. After laying out his final vision for a network of brand-new garden cities, what he calls the Social City, he briefly considers whether any of the older cities can be salvaged and readapted. Not really. After a precipitous fall in land values, due to migrants opting to move to the newer garden cities, London will have to be mostly destroyed. Only then might it be refashioned into a modern city.

This brings up what I take to be a fatal flaw in Howard's whole proposal: he has little respect for limits. It comes out loud and clear in this quote:

The earth's " infinite treasures "? hmm.

This is why the loss of agricultural land to perpetual greenfield development was of no concern. Even on the little island of England, farmland seemed to go on forever. Howard wanted to use local materials to build extravagant new structures but never considered that they may simply run out. Additionally, he never considers how this build-it-from-scratch attitude matches his belief in constantly expanding technological progress. Why would the Garden City be the final stop of history? Would not it also have to be destroyed and replaced when the newer model arrives? (It actually would have within a few decades, because Howard never considered the prospect of automobiles).

I have some design quibbles too, particularly with how he envisions human traffic flowing through the city, but that wouldn't be fair because Howard was more of a social visionary than a designer or engineer. The layout he sketched was conceptual and he knew it. He also didn't understand how regional economic forces agglomerate. He assumed jobs would just follow people wherever they wanted to go. However, it's best to keep criticisms focused on the a broader philosophical level.

Howard's understanding of metaphysical synthesis, which is a theme throughout the work, was frankly crude. We writes:

The problem of " the One and the Many ," a unified whole set up against diverse components, has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries. Christian theologians, at least, gave up trying to decide whether God was one or many by around the 3rd century AD. They just let the paradox be and called him the Triune God. Howard's synthesis, on the other hand, is too neat and simple. It's all unity and little diversity - which, of course, is what Jane Jacobs stepped in to remedy several decades later.

So how am I going to leave this on a positive note? Nobody as well-respected as Ebenezer Howard could be completely off-base. There are lessons to learn from the man. He did have a good grasp on the problems associated with his rapidly industrializing England, which, by the way, seems to me a similar phenomenon to what is now occurring in the developing world. There really is a human proclivity for the " free gifts of nature ," which were being pushed away and cut off by dirty factories and crowded streets of 19th century London. Even if it is impossible for humans to indwell nature as he proposes without killing it, we still yearn for the chance to visit, to remain connected.

Howard identified real social inequities arising from industrialization as many of his peers had, and he believed these could best be addressed at the local level, what he dubs a " pro-municipal " scope. Furthermore, I believe his advocacy for rational planning over the chaotic growth of piecemeal evolution has some merit in a rapidly modernizing context. Another Garden City reformer Raymond Unwin puts his finger on why this is the case, but I'll get to that in a future post.

Posted by Daniel Nairn at 11:43 PM

21 comments:

Thanks for the post Daniel.

I enjoyed the book and am especially intrigued by the solution presented, that is, buying land and leasing it to the population. I believe this resolves many social ills present in our modern fee-simple property right system.

I agree with your critiques but I suppose I don’t blame him. He’s a child of the enlightenment. Progress is king. Human purpose is to subdue Nature. Perhaps he should have lent an ear to Malthus. That said, I am happy to gloss over these parts given the remaining parts which are so good.

One interesting thing about this book is the backward “kickback” of reform to the mother city that must result if such a city were built and it proved successful. London would in fact empty-out and decay from the inside if more socially just and well planned communities were created just outside the boarders. But this would ultimately lead to a more socially just London. “Creative Destruction” in the economic jargon.

As for Howard’s proposal, I think we could modernize it easily in a more ecological manner. We could locate it on a brownfield, for example, and follow a more urban, transect based planning scheme. In so doing I think we keep the heart of Howard’s vision while reforming the logistics per our more advanced knowledge.

I agree that Howard had the kernels of some really good ideas that are still relevant. When you mention advancing Howard's ideas with practices we now understand better, the notion of commuting comes to mind. As far as I can tell, Howard never envisioned anyone commuting outside of the town for work. Everything was supposed to be fairly self-sufficient with labor (although there would be some trade going on).

That's no longer true, so it may require the adapting of Howard's plan. He placed the rail station on the outside of town, because it would only serve industry and he understandably wanted to keep this away from the garden center. But retooling the concept for commuting would require the station to be near the center of town. I guess that's one way the garden city notion could be meshed with contemporary notions of Transit-Oriented Development.

Daniel, I enjoyed this blog entry tremendously! Being a life-long amateur in the field of urban design, I haven't been exposed to classics like Ebeneezer Howard, so I really appreciate being introduced. In Ebeneezer, I may have found a soul-mate.

As such, I have some bones to pick with your analysis of his Garden City, based at least on what you've quoted and the diagrams you've reproduced. You write, 'Howard's understanding of metaphysical synthesis, which is a theme throughout the work, was frankly crude. [H]e writes: "Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization." The trouble here is that marriage is seen as an absolute collapsing of identity, when, as many married people soon discover for themselves, the two may become one but the two are also still two.'

How is Ebeneezer's "marriage" of town and country a collapsing of identity, when only 1/6 of the land is built up, and the rest is open? I like the analogy of marriage, which is very basic and "organic" - how is it crude? I love Ebeneezer's idea of having convalescent homes and children's cottages situated between the field and forest areas. The farm for epileptics is a great expression of social conscience - probably not how all today's "experts" would handle people with disabilities, but reasonable for all that.

Interestingly, Ebeneezer's design is almost point-for-point the same as a concept I've proposed for a self-sustaining transit-oriented village with a population of about 10,000 (http://washtenawtod.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html).

Quibbles aside, I've enjoyed your blog and will follow it with pleasure, so thanks, Daniel!

Larry Krieg
Wake Up Washtenaw
Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti, Michigan

Thanks, Faramir. I do see your point. There isn't anything wrong with the marriage analogy, per say, but it does seem that Howard leans more on the unity than the diversity side of urban and rural form. At least philosophically, he seems convinced that the ideal is to mix the two together as much as possible, and his actual plans for keeping dedicated farmland seem to be more tied to the necessity of providing food than an ideal arrangement.

I agree that the 1/6 ratio of city to farmland is a good one, but Howard's conception of the city portion of his plan does contain a huge amount of open space itself. A large park in the center, a few layers of greenbelts, and fairly spacious private lawns throughout. Parks are great, but to me, he might be swinging the pendulum too far away from an overcrowded London.

Hey, I know I'm a little late to the party commenting on this now, but I finally made it back to read this post (had been meaning to since you posted it)

I can't help but feel that they way Howard envisions "Garden Cities" is actually pretty great and reminds me a lot of the recent push to once again produce much of a towns produces close to home in "Market Gardens" just outside the town.

If Howards ideal of the "Garden City" had been implemented instead of Frank Lloyd Wrights vision of it with, maybe the world would be very different.

One thing that amazed me is the compact nature of Howard's proposed towns, not at all like the sprawl of a modern suburbs. Jane Jacobs hits on the density of "suburbs" in Death and Life. Of course when she is referring to suburbs she is mostly talking of the original "street car" suburbs taht ringed cities prior to WWI. Both Howard and Jacobs view low densities as something far different than what we are now used to. Jacobs says that anything under 20 DUs per acre is low and that a good number for a suburb is 12 DUs/acre. That is far higher than most suburbs (I grew up in a house on a quarter acre lot).

Another facet of Howard's design is that these towns would actually make for great commutting suburbs if strung along a rail line.

Yeah. Howard is growing on me.

Charlottesville has a density of 5 DUA, and people here see that as city living. I suppose these labels are all pretty relative .

After reading the post and the comments. I thought to my self that we are all drawing to the same concussion, that things must change. In the way how we live in cities around the world. This design concept is best solution for economics and utilization of resources. We should have a primary design of sustainability and a holistic, and symbioses relationship with nature.

I think that Ebenezer Howard's Garden City concept, was greatly amplified by Jacque Fresco with the Venus Project. There is an organization that promotes the ideas of a sustainable sociality that would flourish in a city that which is proposed by Ebenezer, and Jacque. The Zeitgeist Movement is where we can unite for this cause.

WWW.thevenusproject.com and www.zeitgeistment.com

Great post. The heart of any settlement must be a garden. Gardens are natural, alive, evolving, social, abundant, open, dynamic, organic, expressive, multisensual, places enjoyed by all species and all ages, social classes etc they are places to relax and commune, places of easy conversation, places to reside and find solace as well as be inspired. A garden can feed you, teach you, embrace you, sting you. it does all of this without intention by Nature's invention. who is the highest order of architect? Not to mention the endless scientific evidence that suggests access to green areas, and most imnportantly wilderness have meassive beneficial effects on psychological states. can we say all this about a shopping centre or a CBD? Dont think so. shame that the heart of our cities and nation is consumerism and economics if the two were ever distinct.

Great article. hopefully wont be too long now.

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sweet post,
nice summary,
great critique.

From : Planner Mahadhe , Urban Plannre, Bangladesh."Naw a days people planners place all are thinking about the Garden city. starting Green Economic, Green Banking. but this concept was strated by Ebenezer Howards, now a days Green is a movement".

Very interesting. Thanks for writing and sharing this post and also some comments about Howard. I live in a very little garden city near Milan. Italy. Its name is Milanino. If you want to have a look at it, try google earth. After one century from its foundation in 1909, you might see how it looks like ) especially if looking at all the other "urban planning products" sorrounding this little oasis. Living here is not bad, in my experience, though the social purposes are completely gone, the green thinking is still alive and at least there are beatiful ancient trees and gardens and little houses all around .. fifteen minutes from the centre of Milan by train. Ah, and still today some agricolture remaining .I think that after all, this place and its planning concept and design may be considered as a present from the founders to today's citizens :) Regards.ciao. Arch. Riccardo Chiaromonte. P.s.if you want to see, there are some recent and ancient photos of Milanino on our fb page studio chiaromonte or from www.studiochiaromonte.com.

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Ebenezer Howard and Letchworth: The First Garden City

Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear is Ebenezer Howard.

Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.

In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.

The principles of garden cities, as laid out in To-morrow, are detailed and thorough. Broadly speaking, the goal is to combine the appeals of town and country without the drawbacks of either.

Howard defined three “magnet” locations: Town, Country, and Town-Country–AKA the garden city. Source:Garden Cities of To-Morrow, Ebenezer Howard

A few key components make this possible. The city is surrounded by an inviolate greenbelt and large areas of land reserved for agriculture, preventing expansion of the urban area. The city is composed of rings centered on a park and “Crystal Palace,” home to a farmers’ market and winter garden. Working outward, six wedge-shaped wards hold residential and commercial properties, as well as the “Grand Avenue” filled with parks, schools, and churches. Factories at the outer edge send products off on a looped railroad. Railways could tie the town to other garden cities, each surrounded by a greenbelt and reserved agriculture space.

After the physical design, Howard explains how such a city could be run. A single organization holds all the land­­–a proposed 6,000 acres–in trust for the mortgage holders and residents. All rent and profits from city-run businesses are reinvested for the public good. The land value, supported by people coming to the town, is thus returned to the residents through infrastructure improvements and other public works. These values are maintained through a clear statement of intent in advance and a well-defined management structure, answerable to the people. This unique system of community ownership, self-sufficiency, and voluntary cooperation reflected anarchist and utopian thought of the time.

Letchworth Garden City was founded under the watchful eyes of Ebenezer Howard and his Garden City Association (GCA). The city faced certain limitations as it moved from ideal to practice. First, and perhaps most significant, the GCA leaders elected to found the city as a limited-dividend company rather than attempt to finance it through loans and granting the city title to a democratic council. This company promised five percent returns to shareholders, which meant it needed to ensure a consistent profit. Thus was First Garden City Ltd. (FGC) founded.

However, the company failed to raise full start-up funds, drawing only £40,000, half the desired amount. The city was unable to build houses and other facilities for more than 10 years, and the only middle-class families with the capital to build their own homes moved in. Without blue-collar workers or farmers, industry and agriculture struggled, as did FGC Ltd.’s profits, preventing the development of some of the democratic structures Howard envisioned.

Letchworth Garden City’s original plan, by Barry Parker and Robert Unwin. Source: English Garden Cities: An Introduction, Mervyn Miller

Arts and Crafts architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin designed the city’s master plan–heavily modified from Howard’s outline to better fit the area. Compromises also had to be made for the sake of cost and comfort. Howard’s planning can, however, be seen in such beautiful areas as the central park and well-landscaped Broadway, as well as other preserved natural areas such as Norton Common. In fact, only one tree came down as the town was laid out.

The Spirella “factory of beauty” in Letchworth. Built with the employees in mind, it included everything from showers to a library.

Eventually, Letchworth developed a skilled manufacturing economy, featuring the Spirella Corset Company’s “factory of beauty,” a forward-thinking facility that focused on employees’ comfort. Growth in the agricultural sector was slow, but domestic gardens exploded: in 1953 there were an estimated 6,000 gardens in the city, each producing an average of 75 pounds of food. In 1946, Sir Frederic Osborn–who worked with Howard to promote later garden cities and headed the GCA after his retirement–described Letchworth as “a faithful fulfillment of Howard’s essential ideas,” noting the local employment, profit-sharing with the community, the demonstration of organic town planning, and the fusion of a single-owner leasehold with democratic ideals. Clearly, at this point, Letchworth was a success.

The community has had a massive impact, inspiring numerous follow-ups and imitators, including Welwyn Garden City–the only other built under Ebenezer Howard’s direct guidance–and Hampstead Garden Suburb. In fact, the International Garden Cities Institute–headquartered in Letchworth–lists garden cities on every continent except Antarctica. More broadly, the garden city movement influenced English New Towns (post-war government-planned communities), and is considered a cornerstone of modern urban (and suburban) planning. Ebenezer Howard also influenced Walt Disney’s EPCOT, and Letchworth has been linked to modern smart cities such as Masdar. The Garden City Association has evolved into the Town and Country Planning Association, which continues to work for healthy, affordable, and rational urban planning.

Letchworth Garden City itself is ultimately a compromise between ideals and reality. Today the Letchworth Heritage Foundation (First Garden City Ltd. was dissolved by statute after it was purchased and nearly destroyed in the early 1960s) operates the estate, still following Howard’s ideals of reinvestment and community health. In 1983, architect Mervyn Miller wondered if Letchworth’s limits on growth would cause it to stagnate and become “merely a landmark in the museum of planning.” Since then, however, it has only improved, drawing upon its history to become a leader in the ongoing development of garden cities. Now home to the International Garden Cities Exhibition and Institute, it stands at the center of efforts to bring Ebenezer Howard’s ideas into the modern era.

Garden Cities of To-morrow, Ebenezer Howard

English Garden Cities: An Introduction, Mervyn Miller

The Art of Building a Garden City, Kate Henderson

Miller, M. (1983). Letchworth Garden City Eighty Garden Years on. Built Environment (1978), 9(3/4), 167–184.


The Marshall Legacy: Organised Migration

17 The first of these, the idea of ‘an organized migratory movement’ is perhaps best approached through the marginalist (‘neo-classical’) economist Alfred Marshall and his idea of the industrial settlement or ‘district’. The reference to the shady character of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, businessman, adventurer, politician and champion of British colonisation (as well as semi-professional eloper) serves in this context only insofar as Wakefield saw urban overcrowding in Britain as one of the main causes of the rampant ‘socio-economic problems’ (proletarian poverty and insalubrious living conditions), and the founding of overseas colonies as one of the main practical and most efficient solutions. He explained his approach in A View in the Art of Colonization , published in 1849. His scheme was based on the idea of the acquisition of the land by a ‘colonising company’ and its subsequent sale to investors. He also believed that a properly proportioned population of workers, artisans, merchants and other social categories would provide an adequate basis for successful and durable colonising settlements. Thus the seeds of Howard’s idea might well have come from Wakefield, but it was Marshall’s economic thinking which transplanted them onto British soil and allowed them to germinate and develop in an organised or even organic way. Marshall himself was an early supporter of the Garden City programme, as he found it reflected pragmatically some of his theoretical ideas, and he became one of the vice-presidents of the Garden City Association (the aim of which was to put into practice Howard’s idea) soon after it was created in June 1899. Howard’s borrowing from Marshall is in fact twofold.

18 Alfred Marshall’s idea of the ‘industrial district’ serves as the general background to the socio-economic inspiration here. The ‘ideal type’ of the industrial district was initially formulated by Marshall in his 1890 Principles of Economics , on the basis of empirical observations of industrial ‘company towns’ and other neighbourhoods on the outskirts of large cities which concentrated industrial activity and working-class housing. This ‘industrial cluster’ model represented in Marshall’s view the ‘optimum’ of competitive capitalism in the dominant neo-classical economics of the time: transaction (transport and communications) costs are reduced by the proximity and the connections between firms, recruitment of labour is facilitated, etc. Marshall later took up the concept in his 1919 Industry and Trade: A Study of Industrial Technique and Business Organisation, and elaborated further on the implications of this configuration in terms of the relative marginal utility of different organisational choices. At any rate, the idea of industrial clusters or districts was already well known at the time Howard was preparing the first version of his book, in the last decade of the 19th century, when Marshall’s Principles were already the main reference in academic economics (and were to remain a key reference for a good long time thereafter). That Howard drew on the main figurehead of modern economic science of this time comes as no surprise. But the legacy of Marshall’s ideas goes much further.

19 In the context of the Garden City concept itself, the reference to the great Victorian economist points more precisely to Marshall’s idea of an ‘organised migration’ of ‘surplus’ or (in his view) ‘redundant’ workers from the large overcrowded cities to new urban industrial settlements: ‘… [T]he general plan’, Marshal wrote, ‘would probably be for a committee, whether formed specially for the purpose or not, to interest themselves in the formation of a colony in some place well beyond the range of London smoke’ (Marshall 1884, 10). This ‘benevolent’ approach, as formulated in various articles and book chapters by Marshall, was supposed to benefit workers by affording them increased employment opportunities, cheaper housing, reduced transport costs and a healthier living environment, among other advantages, compared with crowded urban life. In an exord to Chapter 3, Howard has the distinguished Professor explain that the ‘removal’ of parts of the London proletariat would make impeccable industrial sense. The source is an article in the Contemporary Review entitled ‘The Housing of the London Poor’ from 1884, so pre-dating the publication of the Principles of Economics by a few years, and the quote (the first paragraph of the introduction) reads as follows:

Whatever reforms be introduced into the dwellings of the London poor, it will still remain true that the whole area of London is insufficient to supply its population with fresh air and the free space that is wanted for wholesome recreation. A remedy for the overcrowding of London will still be wanted. […] There are large classes of the population of London whose removal into the country would be in the long run economically advantageous it would benefit alike those who moved and those who remained behind. […] Of the 150,000 or more hired workers in the clothes-making trades, by far the greater part are very poorly paid, and do work which it is against all economic reason to have done where ground-rent is high. (Marshall 1884, 3)

20 Later Howard again quotes Marshall explaining which social groups the major benefits might accrue to: ‘Ultimately all would gain by the migration, but most the landowners and the railroads connected to the colony’ (Howard 1898, 50 his emphasis). Howard purported his system would make the ‘people of Garden City’, the workers, the collective owners of the land, and thus one of the main beneficiaries of the new urban-rural settlement, ‘as members of a new municipality’ (Howard 1898, 51). This, however, can only be true as an approximation, or even a series of connected approximations, since in reality the actual owner of the land would be the Garden City Limited Company, and the new settlement would be a municipality in a very analogical sense only, not in a legal and therefore legally binding sense. Additionally, the revenue accruing from the rent of land and the increase in land-value would be ‘redistributed’ through public services to the population, but not with a view to changing the social system of relative conditions and positions of employers and workers, for example. The ‘benevolent’ intentions were, in fact and rather fittingly, very socially conservative in outlook.


Ebenezer Howard's Garden City concept

In recognition of the first 100 years of city planning as a profession, APA has selected 100 essential books of planning. While I think the word “ essential ” may be a little strong, considering that most professional planners have probably only read a handful of these, this is a nice departure point for some summer reading. Thanks to Google and the University of Michigan and Harvard libraries, we can download the ones with expired copyrights for free (beats the $$ for some of these used on Amazon).

Ebenezer Howard would be an intriguing place to start, going back to the turn of the 19th century. Pretty much excoriated by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s as a “ decentralist ” utopian against real cities, he still has many defenders today. Robert Fishman attributes the more contemporary concepts of transit-oriented development and urban growth boundaries to Howard: “ Calthorpe's Portland regional plan is basically Ebenezer Howard's Social City, with some new color graphics .” Peter Hall sees Howard has an anarchist, something he appreciates, and insists that contemporary planning could gain from returning to its garden city roots. Presented here are my reactions to reading Garden Cities of To-morrow for myself, and hopefully I’ll convince you to download a copy for yourself too.

The famous part of the book is the first chapter, where the plans for the Garden City are laid out, but it only makes sense in light of some more foundational principles revealed in subsequent chapters. He goes right into giving precise prescriptions for the new city, down to acreage and expenses. 6000 acres of cheap rural land are to be purchased, 1000 of which are reserved for the city. A 32,000 person population cap is set, after which a new city will have to be colonized.

As far as the design goes, Howard wants to make it as little like the overcrowded London of his day as possible, so public parks and private lawns are everywhere. The roads are incredibly wide, ranging from 120 to 420 feet for the Grand Avenue, and they are radial rather than linear. Commercial, industrial, residential, and public uses are clearly differentiated from each other spatially.

The overall goal for Howard is to combine the traditional countryside with the traditional town. For too long residents have had to make the unfulfilling choice between living in a culturally isolated rural area or giving up nature to live in a city, but " human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together ." As he sees it, in a rather Hegelian fashion if you ask me, the two " magnets " of Town and Country that have in the past pulled people in either direction will, in the future, be synthesized into one " Town-Country magnet ." Someone just needs to build the first one.

As fantastical as the first chapter hits us (or me at least, especially a " crystal palace " element), Howard is completely earnest in his attempts to get it built. In fact, most of the book can be read as a business model being pitched to potential investors. He assures interested parties that he can get them a 4.5% return. Howard makes it clear that he is not a socialist, and he does not see centralized government playing an initial role. The closest thing I can relate his plan to is a homeowners' association on steroids, he calls it a " quasi-public body ," which owns all the land of the city and leases it out to residents. The financial linchpin of the plan is the fact that all of the land is purchased up front, so that the increase in property values generated by the growth will be captured by the community itself. He also assumes that if everything is planned rationally from the beginning, the costly process of retrofitting old infrastructure for new technology can be avoided.

A few philosophical commitments jumped out to me right away as integral to his whole project. First, Howard deliberately tries to steer a course been collective and individual authority, a basic paradox he sees as rooted in human nature. He suggests a pragmatic approach to sorting out where the impetus should be placed. If the municipal authorities do a good job they should keep doing it, otherwise it should be handed over to private enterprise. Ultimately, he sees these two spheres are headed in the same direction. " There is a path along which sooner or later, both the Individualist and the Socialist must inevitably travel ." And it leads right to the Garden City. There's the historically progressive synthesis again.

Howard's enthusiastic embrace of progress just drips from every page. He even sees human beings becoming less selfish, as modern advances in science and technology open up frontiers of human flourishing. Newer is better, just as the railroad is better than the stagecoach. After laying out his final vision for a network of brand-new garden cities, what he calls the Social City, he briefly considers whether any of the older cities can be salvaged and readapted. Not really. After a precipitous fall in land values, due to migrants opting to move to the newer garden cities, London will have to be mostly destroyed. Only then might it be refashioned into a modern city.

This brings up what I take to be a fatal flaw in Howard's whole proposal: he has little respect for limits. It comes out loud and clear in this quote:

The earth's " infinite treasures "? hmm.

This is why the loss of agricultural land to perpetual greenfield development was of no concern. Even on the little island of England, farmland seemed to go on forever. Howard wanted to use local materials to build extravagant new structures but never considered that they may simply run out. Additionally, he never considers how this build-it-from-scratch attitude matches his belief in constantly expanding technological progress. Why would the Garden City be the final stop of history? Would not it also have to be destroyed and replaced when the newer model arrives? (It actually would have within a few decades, because Howard never considered the prospect of automobiles).

I have some design quibbles too, particularly with how he envisions human traffic flowing through the city, but that wouldn't be fair because Howard was more of a social visionary than a designer or engineer. The layout he sketched was conceptual and he knew it. He also didn't understand how regional economic forces agglomerate. He assumed jobs would just follow people wherever they wanted to go. However, it's best to keep criticisms focused on the a broader philosophical level.

Howard's understanding of metaphysical synthesis, which is a theme throughout the work, was frankly crude. We writes:

The problem of " the One and the Many ," a unified whole set up against diverse components, has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries. Christian theologians, at least, gave up trying to decide whether God was one or many by around the 3rd century AD. They just let the paradox be and called him the Triune God. Howard's synthesis, on the other hand, is too neat and simple. It's all unity and little diversity - which, of course, is what Jane Jacobs stepped in to remedy several decades later.

So how am I going to leave this on a positive note? Nobody as well-respected as Ebenezer Howard could be completely off-base. There are lessons to learn from the man. He did have a good grasp on the problems associated with his rapidly industrializing England, which, by the way, seems to me a similar phenomenon to what is now occurring in the developing world. There really is a human proclivity for the " free gifts of nature ," which were being pushed away and cut off by dirty factories and crowded streets of 19th century London. Even if it is impossible for humans to indwell nature as he proposes without killing it, we still yearn for the chance to visit, to remain connected.

Howard identified real social inequities arising from industrialization as many of his peers had, and he believed these could best be addressed at the local level, what he dubs a " pro-municipal " scope. Furthermore, I believe his advocacy for rational planning over the chaotic growth of piecemeal evolution has some merit in a rapidly modernizing context. Another Garden City reformer Raymond Unwin puts his finger on why this is the case, but I'll get to that in a future post.


Access options

1. I wish to thank Russell T. McCutcheon, Annie Gilbert Coleman, Bob Barrows, Philip Scarpino, Liz Bellamy and the two Rural History referees for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

2. Fishman , Robert , Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier ( New York , 1978 ), p. 23 .Google Scholar

3. For the world-wide influence of elements of Garden City ideas, see Ward , Stephen V. , ed., The Garden City: Past, Present and Future ( London , 1992 ).Google Scholar

4. In July of 1997, a newly formed lobby group, the Countryside Alliance, staged a rally in London's Hyde Park to call on the new Labour government to defend ‘rural values’ from town dwellers. According to the Guardian newspaper, the loudest applause from the 250,000 people at the rally was reserved for the speech of farmer Willie Poole, who cried, ‘Stop letting these townie buggers grind us down.’

5. Hall , Peter and Ward , Colin , Sociable Cities: The Legacy of Ebenezer Howard ( New York , 1998 )Google Scholar , and Meacham , Standish , Regaining Paradise: Englishness and the Early Garden City Movement ( New Haven, CT , 1999 ).Google Scholar

6. Rodwin , Lloyd , The British New Towns Policy ( Cambridge, MA , 1956 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7. Saint , Andrew , ‘The New Towns’, The Cambridge Cultural History of Britain, Volume 9: Modern Britain , edited by Boris , Ford ( Cambridge , 1992 ), p. 152 .Google Scholar

8. Hall , and Ward , , Sociable Cities, pp. 55 , 67 –9, 103 –7.Google Scholar

9. Howard , Ebenezer , Garden Cities of To-morrow (Reprinted by MIT Press , 1965 ), pp. 50 –4, 142 .Google Scholar


The Namesake of Howard University Spent Years Kicking Native Americans Off of Their Land

When God first visited him in 1857, Oliver Otis Howard was a lonely army lieutenant battling clouds of mosquitoes in a backwater posting that he described as a “field for self-denial”: Tampa, Florida. Howard had spent his life swimming against powerful tides. Ten when his father died, he had to leave his family in Leeds, Maine, and move in with relatives. Through constant study, he made it to Bowdoin College at age 16, graduating near the top of his class and earning a commission to West Point. Bare-knuckling his way to respect, he finished fourth in his class—only to begin his climb anew as a junior officer.

Sent a thousand miles away from his wife and baby boy, Howard found it hard to see the point of all the effort and sacrifice. But at a Methodist meeting, “the choking sensation” suddenly lifted, replaced, he wrote, by “a new well spring within me, a joy, a peace & a trusting spirit.” God had found him—had “pluck[ed] my feet from the mire & place[d] them on the rock”—for a reason. Howard was 26 years old, and something meaningful awaited him.

The idea that something important is in store for us is a deeply American faith, rooted in Cotton Mather’s examinations of “God’s providence” in the New World and extending to evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s popular attempt to answer the question, “What on earth am I here for?” But this source of strength has a sharp edge. Oliver Otis Howard’s life forces us to ask: What do we do when our grand sense of purpose does not last—or, worse yet, fails us?

Howard returned north to teach math at West Point after his stint in Tampa ended. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 made the Union his calling. “I gave up every other plan except as to the best way for me to contribute to the saving of her life,” Howard wrote.

Once again, Howard would struggle. He was quickly promoted to brigadier general, but lost his right arm in battle in June 1862. He returned to the fight at summer’s end, only to experience a year of humiliating battlefield defeats. In a play on his first two initials, his men started calling him “Uh Oh” (or “Oh Oh” Howard).

Through it all, Howard found a new divine purpose in the heroism and daring of the black men, women, and children who crossed army lines, proclaiming themselves free after lives of bondage. Not much of an abolitionist before the war—to his soldiers’ displeasure, his main cause had been temperance—Howard wrote a letter to the New York Times on January 1, 1863, proclaiming, “We must destroy Slavery root and branch . This is a hard duty—a terrible, solemn duty but it is a duty.” Howard’s abolitionism earned him allies in Congress, helping him hold onto his command long enough to be sent west to fight under William Tecumseh Sherman. He finally distinguished himself in the Atlanta campaign and played a key role in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

As the war was ending in May 1865, Howard was called to Washington and asked to lead the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, an agency created by Congress to provide humanitarian relief for the South and shepherd some four million people from slavery to citizenship. It was a new experiment in governing, the first big federal social welfare agency in American history. Howard saw the opportunity as heaven sent. Howard, then 34 years old, embraced the cause of the freed people as the mission that would guide the rest of his life.

Howard soon realized that the government had no capacity to change white Southerners who were, in essence, still fighting the Civil War, and he lacked the political and administrative savvy to execute policies such as land redistribution that would have upended the political, economic, and social dynamics of the South. So Howard poured Bureau resources into education, which he called “the true relief” from “beggary and dependence.” When a new institution of higher education for black men and women was chartered in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1867, it was almost a given that it would be named for the crusading general. Howard University would be a monument to Reconstruction and to its fragility—to the knowledge that its promise and values were always under threat.

In time, Howard’s successes during Reconstruction were overwhelmed by his defeats. He became a lightning rod for Reconstruction’s enemies, who attacked the very notion that government should devote itself to liberty and equality for all. The Freedmen’s Bureau lost most of its funding after 1868 and folded in 1872. Accused of corruption and nearly bankrupted by lawyers’ fees, Howard described himself as “crippled & broken” by his failures. His calling had become a cruel mirage. Still, Howard remained convinced that he had been chosen to lead a meaningful life. “God in his mercy has given me much recuperative energy,” he wrote at the time. “I know better than to quarrel with his dealings with me.”

In 1874, Howard's faith drove him west. Cleared of corruption charges, he rejoined the active-duty military and assumed command of army forces in the Pacific Northwest. It was a willing exile. Far from the capital, he was convinced that he could restore his reputation and find a way back to power and purpose. A big part of Howard’s job involved convincing Native Americans to move to reservations and establish themselves as farmers on small plots of land. He believed he was saving them from genocide, leading them down a path to citizenship—if only they would agree to be led.

In September 1876, just months after the slaughter of Custer’s army at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Howard announced that a land dispute between white settlers and Nez Perce Indians in Oregon and Idaho could become the next bloody flashpoint. He offered himself up as the man who could resolve the situation. Democratic and Republican newspapers agreed that he was uniquely capable of convincing the Indians to move to an Idaho reservation peacefully. Howard’s redemption was at hand.

Howard appealed to a Nez Perce leader known as Chief Joseph to cede his ancestral territory and move to the reservation. But Joseph refused. “This one place of living is the same as you whites have among yourselves,” Joseph argued, asserting his right to the property and assuring Howard that his people could live peacefully alongside whites, as they had since the first settlers came onto his land five years earlier. It was a plea for sovereignty, but also for liberty and equality, echoing the same values Howard had championed a decade before. This time, Howard’s drive to fulfill his mission pushed aside such principles.

In May 1877 the general demanded that all Nez Perce bands move onto the reservation within 30 days, forcing them to risk their herds by crossing rivers during the spring flood. The ultimatum all but assured violence. On the eve of the deadline, a group of young warriors committed a series of revenge killings, targeting settlers along the Salmon River. After the bloodshed started, Howard and his troops pursued 900 or so men, women, and children across Nez Perce country, through the Northern Rockies, and over the Montana plains.

The Nez Perce bands outran the soldiers for three-and-a-half months. When troops riding ahead of Howard managed to catch the families by surprise in August 1877, they massacred women and children, but still failed to end the war. While Howard gave chase, the glory he craved slipped his grasp. Newspapers ridiculed him for not capturing Joseph. Settlers along the way gave him a cold reception. His superiors moved to strip him of his command.

Joseph’s surrender in October 1877 brought Howard little relief. Joseph’s battlefield declaration, “I will fight no more forever,” almost immediately made him a figure of national fascination—a noble warrior who protected women and children and whose pleas for liberty and equality felt deeply patriotic. There was no satisfaction in crushing the man widely described as “the best Indian.”

Howard finished his military career with a series of quiet postings, waiting—too long, he thought—for his promotion to Major General. In retirement, he briefly found a new calling, leading efforts during the Spanish American War to evangelize soldiers and sailors and keep them out of bars and brothels. In the early 1900s, with memories of Reconstruction dimming, Howard was hailed as an exemplar of the Union cause, described by Teddy Roosevelt as “that living veteran of the Civil War whom this country most delights to honor.”

But praise was not the same as purpose, and for Howard, a grand redemption remained elusive.


Ebenezer Howard

After some years and many cups of coffee/tea and lots of biscuits, a small group of volunteers (recruited by Susan Flood of Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies at County Hall, Hertford), have deciphered a large quantity of shorthand notes written by Ebenezer Howard, the founder of Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City.  These notes were on various subjects ranging from “ Third Garden City” to “Homelessness”, “Success” and “How to build a Garden City”.

Can you fill in the gaps?

We decided to publish the first one of these and would like your help to fill in a few gaps which have ‘baffled’ us all.  Here you will see the first page of shorthand, together with our transcript   - you can have a go at filling in the gaps.  

You may also find that some of our words are wrong too!  We welcome any suggestions.  Click on the picture to get a bigger image so that you can see the writing more clearly.

Patti, Audrey, Jan, William et al.

The transcript

Here is the transcript of Page 1:

THIRD GARDEN CITY  

In 1889 I published “Tomorrow A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’.  In later editions called “Tomorrow”.  In the opening chapters of the book I cited various writers and speakers who ……………………were appalled by the growth of London and other large cities and suggested the building (at Welwyn) of a town on a considerable patch of land which was well nigh devoid of population and was therefore purchasable at a very low price a new and well planned town permanently fringed by its own agricultural estate that one should seek to attract numerous industries to the town thus making it possible for all so employed to live near their work in cottages with good gardens and.………………………………. which should be in marked contrast to the slummy conditions in which so many people live in our great cities.  Soon afterwards I formed the Garden City Association (now called The Garden Cities & Town Planning Association) to propagate these ideas its first Secretary being Mr. William Steere, Barrister at Law.   Mr Clement Bullchurch (afterwards Judge of the High Court), and with numerous friends, gave lectures on the subject in various parts of the country.   In 1890 a friend called my attention to an article in ‘Labour Co-Partnership’ written by Mr. Ralph Neville KC, in which he expressed instant approval of my proposals.   I at once went to see him at his Chambers in South Square and he at once expressed himself willing to join our Association and soon afterwards became its Chairman.  This acquisition to our ranks was of very great importance and we were at once able to


Watch the video: Carolyn Steel: How food shapes our cities (August 2022).