From the garden city movement onwards : utopianism in British garden cities

University essay from Lunds universitet/Institutionen för kulturgeografi och ekonomisk geografi

Abstract: With the publication of 'Garden Cities of To-Morrow' in 1898, Ebenezer Howard gave the go-ahead to the Garden City Movement. Howard’s concept of the garden city arose from his anti-capitalist critiques. Many industrial cities in the United Kingdom were facing urbanization problems, leading to the working class living in terrible circumstances in the suburban areas. This process caused a poor quality of life, housing shortages, polluted air and water and a lack of access to nature. At the same time, the countryside lacked career opportunities and a lack of (cultural) amusement. Howard proposed the garden city as a new alternative to both ways of living. A garden city would have a green character and a blooming cultural life. Surrounding greenbelts and enough job opportunities would make the city self-sustainable. The reactions to Howard’s utopian ideas were mainly positive, leading to the construction of two garden cities in the United Kingdom. Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City were located close to London and offered a way of living as proposed by Howard. These projects were considered successful, leading to the establishment of the related New Town Movement. This movement eventually led to the creation of 28 new and self-sustaining towns all over the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the two original garden cities had developed into rich commuter towns which had become too expansive for the working class population. Some of Howard’s utopian ideals had slowly faded away. In January 2017, the British government announced plans to construct 17 new garden towns and villages in the United Kingdom. In this thesis it will be examined whether Howard’s utopian thinking prevails in the planning documents of two of these new garden cities. An analysis of the planning documents of Harlow & Gilston Garden Town and Long Marston Airfield Garden Village will be made. Because Howard identified a contrast between the urbanized cities and the more natural countryside, the themes of ‘nature’ and ‘the urban’ will be used as the main themes. Concepts like the nature-culture divide, the social construction of nature, the right to the city and neoliberalism will be used to position and analyze these planning documents.

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