The history of planning so far recounted is a largely pragmatic one: that of a profession seeking to solve problems within the existing urban framework. But there has also been within the profession a minority with much grander ambitions—one that seeks not simply improvement of the existing pattern but also a major restructuring of the form of human settlement. Although the issues change, the tension between those who see planning as an activity that optimizes development under the existing rules and those who hold a more radical view, who see the proper role of planning as rewriting the rules, is one of the central themes of planning history.19
Perhaps the most influential of all reformers and visionaries was the Englishman Ebenezer Howard. A court stenographer by profession, Howard conceived a vision of the city of the future and of a system of such cities. He set it forth in a short and very simply written book, Garden Cities of Tomorrow, published in 1902.20 Howard observed the congestion and pollution of late nineteenth-century London and concluded that hope for the future lay in diverting population growth to new urban centers. People moved from the countryside to the congestion of the city for compelling economic and social reasons, but they paid a great price. The solution was to create new towns ("garden cities"), which would offer the economic and social advantages of the city combined with the tranquillity, healthful environment, and closeness to nature of the countryside.
Howard proposed the following general design. The total development would cover an area of about 6,000 acres (there are 640 acres in a square mile). The urbanized area itself would cover an area of about 1,000 acres and be laid out in a circle about one-and-a-half miles in diameter. A garden and a grouping of public buildings would constitute the core and would be accessible by radial boulevards. The core would be ringed by residential areas divided into neighborhoods by the boulevards. The residential ring would, in turn, be ringed by commercial and industrial establishments. The commercial and industrial ring would be enclosed in a circular rail spur, which would connect the city to other garden cities and to the central city of the region. Around the urban area would be agricultural and institutional uses. The dimensions of the city would be such that any resident would be within a few minutes' walk of both the city core and the places of work on the periphery. Yet he or she would live in an area from which industrial uses and heavy traffic were excluded.
The city, by virtue of quick rail access, would have close economic links to other cities, but it would have enough economic activity within its boundaries so that the great majority of its residents would not have to commute. Total population in the city would be about 30,000, and there might be another 2,000 or so people in the 5,000 acres surrounding the city. In the words of Lewis Mumford, perhaps the best-known U.S. writer on architecture and urbanization, the garden city as conceived by Howard was more than just a bucolic retreat.
[It should] . . . be large enough to sustain a varied industrial, commercial, and social life. It should not be solely an industrial hive, solely an overgrown market, or solely a dormitory; instead, all these and many other functions, including rural ones, should be contained in a new kind of urbanization to which he applied the slightly misleading name of garden city. Howard had no thought of a return to the "simple life" or to a more primitive economy; on the contrary, he was seeking higher levels of both production and living. He believed that a city should be big enough to achieve social cooperation of a complex kind based on the necessary division of labor, but not so big as to frustrate these functions—as the big city tended to do even when viewed solely as an economic unit.21
Howard perceived that no matter how well designed and well balanced the garden city might be, it could not exist in isolation. He envisioned a system of cities, all at a modest scale, as shown schematically in the accompanying illustrations. As Mumford characterized Howard's view,
a city, no matter how well balanced, can never be completely self-contained. He pointed out that in a group of garden cities united by rapid transportation each would have facilities and resources that would supplement those of the others; so grouped, these "social cities" would in fact be the functional equivalent of the congested metropolis.22
Howard, as did many other nineteenth-century reformers and planners, saw the fragmented private ownership of land as an impediment to good urban form because each property owner would be motivated to develop his or her land as intensively as possible and with no regard to its effect on the rest of the community. Thus one feature of his plan was common ownership of land, with profits from land development reverting to the municipal treasury.
The plan is a remarkable mixture of vision and practicality. Howard was a doer and an organizer as well as a visionary. In 1903 a company he organized purchased a site of 3,818 acres 35 miles from the center of London and proceeded to build the Garden City of Letchworth. Writing about it in 1945, F.J. Osborn stated,
For Letchworth was, and remains, a faithful fulfillment of Howard's essential ideas. It has today a wide range of prosperous industries, it is a town of homes and gardens with ample spaces and a spirited community life, virtually all its people find employment locally, it is girdled by an inviolate agricultural belt, and the principles of single ownership, limited profit, and the earmarking of any surplus revenue for the benefit of the town have been fully maintained.23
A second planned community in the greater London area, Welwyn Garden City, was begun by Howard in 1919, with quite successful results.
Ultimately, Howard's work influenced urban development in dozens if not hundreds of communities, from Radburn in the United States to Chandigarh in India. Radburn is very much an outgrowth of the garden city movement, as are Columbia, Maryland, and Reston, Virginia. In Western Europe numerous new communities were built after World War II to deal with a desperate shortage of housing resulting from the low rates of construction during the Great Depression and the destruction of housing during the war. These communities, too, are an outgrowth or extension of Howard's garden city vision.
In the last two decades of the twentieth century, neotraditional design, also referred to as the New Urbanism, became one of the most discussed trends in planning and urban design in the United States (see Chapter 10).
It clearly draws much of its inspiration from Howard's work, as its proponents readily acknowledge. In recent years there has been a spate of new town planning in a number of Third World countries. There, too, Howard's garden city concept has had an influence, albeit with some modern twists that Howard could not have anticipated. For example, the new town of Putrajaya—located near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in an area which the Malaysian government is seeking to develop as an information technology- (IT) oriented development center—bills itself as "the country's first intelligent garden city."24 Both its own design and its relationship to the larger city of Kuala Lumpur suggest a Howardian influence.
The plan for the entire 6,000 acres is shown at the upper left. Note the radial routes dividing the city into sectors and the circumferential rail line. One sector is shown at the lower left. Note the Grand Avenue and school. At the lower right is a schematic illustration of the system of garden cities. Replace the intermunicipal railway with a modern beltway and the garden cities with suburban subcenters like Tyson's Corner, Virginia, and the design looks relatively modern.