Part I Thoughts on Ebenezer Howard – the inventor of the Garden City 1890′s and how nothing has changed for dreamers in over 100 years.
Recently I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with some of the Landscape Architecture and City Planning pioneers. At this point in my life and career I have a new respect and understanding of the designers in our history books. They are much more real to me now as actual relatable people just like you and I, which is both liberating and slightly disillusioning. Let me explain what I mean.
Ebenezer Howard was the inventor of the Iconic “Garden City” in 1898. Every Landscape Architecture and City Planning student has been exposed to his ideas as a matter of course. I remember hearing this name, Ebenezer…even his name sounded like something from a time so long ago as to render it irrelevant. When you are 22 years old the understanding of time is very skewed…for some reason the year 1900 seemed farther away when I was 22 than it does now. It is funny how that works isn’t it? Yet, his name was in a history book, so this man is famous, a preeminently successful human being…right? Well that is how the 22 year old me related to him…the older me now sees a man who struggled, worked hard, and didn’t get everything right the first time, or have anything work out simple and easy. I’m sure there were plenty of times when he probably questioned what he was doing, or felt discouraged or impatient, nervous or unsure, tired and stressed, just like you and me. He was a regular guy.
This time around, when I was re-reading about his “Garden City” ideas, I have to admit that I was startled by how real this person has become to me, because I now KNOW him. I don’t mean I know the actual Ebenezer Howard, I mean I know people exactly like him, thinking very similar things to him, struggling against the financial hurdles of funding projects that todays designers believe will help improve society.
I started seeing many similarities between this man and his world, from over 100 year ago, and the people and world I know today. Ebenezer Howard, far from being some abstract historical character, might as well be “enter colleagues name here”. Hey! I KNOW THIS GUY! I’VE WORKED WITH THIS GUY! It is quite a revelation and has really changed my perspective on both the past and the future. This new perspective has inspired me to write this multi part blog post so that I can share with you my observations about the way old problems are todays problems, how designers now are the same as designers 100 years ago, and that if you feel disheartened or discouraged about your own projects, remembering Howard and his journey to becoming the “inventor of the Garden City” will give you hope, inspiration and a connection to both the past, and the future.