Monday, May 13, 2013

A hundred years of town planning and the influence of Ebenezer Howard

by Max Steuer

The Garden City Association, now the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), was founded on the 10th of June 1899 by a group of men hoping to create a new way of living. They were led by Ebenezer Howard, the author of To-morrow! A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. Originally the TCPA planned to celebrate its centenar y by publishing a new edition of Howard’s book. Instead, the Association’s Chairman, Sir Peter Hall, and its former Environmental Education OfŽ cer, Colin Ward, have produced a commemorative volume in two parts. The Ž rst part consists of a detailed and interesting history of the life and works of Ebenezer Howard, and the inuence of his and related ideas on town planning during the past centur y. The second part of the book is a chronicle of Hall and Ward’s ideas about the best way to accommodate the proposed building of new houses in the UK over the next few decades. Not surprisingly, the authors want to show that Howard’s thinking is relevant to current housing and town planning issues. They struggle to do so, sometimes making big claims for Howard, and at other times getting on with their own ideas and leaving Howard to one side. This book is a pivotal publication which is intended to celebrate the achievements of the town planning movement. The centenary means one thing to the members of the town planning establishment, and quite another thing to outsiders, like myself, who come from the social science tradition.
Hall and Ward describe Howard’s life prior to writing Tomorrow!, later republished as Garden Cities of To-Morrow, as, ‘one of hard grind and personal failure’ (p. 4). Howard emigrated to America, where he tried unsuccessfully to make a go of farming. When disaster struck, he was able to rescue his family and earn a ver y modest living by moving to Chicago and working as a shorthand writer. He returned to London in 1876 and carried on with shorthand as a Parliamentary reporter. He had no particular educational background, but always took an interest in social movements, rejecting most, but being rather drawn to the economist Henry George and his single land tax. Howard appears to have been a decent enough fellow with something of a gift for orator y. He hardly seems to be the kind of person who would write a book which, in Hall and Ward’s phrase, ‘would change the course of history’.

Letchworth Garden City
Letschworth Garden City
Letschworth Garden City
Letschworth Garden City

more about Ebenezer Howard and Garden City:


From Garden Cities to New Towns – An Integrative Planning Solution?

History of Letchworth Garden City

Howard Park and Howard Garden, Letchworth Garden City, Herts: Archaeological Desk Based Assessment

The Roots and Origins of New Urbanism

What is Green Urbanism? Holistic Principles to Transform Cities for Sustainability

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