Tag Archives: garden city history

06 May

Part II – Ebenezer Howard – Still an Inspiration

See part I of this series for a little more background about Ebenezer Howard, the inventor of the Garden City circa 1900.

So if you aren’t familiar with Howard, (and I am by no means an expert) he was a man who looked around him and saw a great disparity between the people who had much power and money, (the corporate and business moguls), and the rest of the working class (the 99%), at the turn of the previous century. He wanted to help solve both the social and urban decay crisis of his time.

Now remember, this was a man who was middle aged, and did not have a formal education in architecture, planning or any related field. This little piece of information sank into my brain with a much larger impact than it had at 22 as well, because, well, I’m on the cusp of the dreaded ‘middle age’ myself, and the thought that a total reinvention of who you are, your field, and your posterity is both intriguing and inspiring.

At some point in the future there will need to be a clarifier on exactly which turn of the century we are talking about, the year 1900 or the year 2000, because that sounds a lot like the concerns many of my colleagues have now. We are still trying to solve the same basic problems of social inequality, affordable housing, urban decay, and general positive societal fulfillment over one hundred years later!

He did not support concentrated power in the hands of a few by governmental intervention, but also did not support a union movement. He DID support a strong community of people who were mutually benefitted by strong relationships between commerce and the individual, by interwoven supply and demand dynamics, and strong social cooperation ethics.

People who held similar beliefs in his time and place were categorized as “the radical movement of Victorian England”. Hmmm, it might as well be called something very similar in today’s world. The term radical always has confused me when applied to those who want to help find a solution to poverty and suffering, whether by architectural design or cooperation. Is it really “radical” to want to see people get along and respect each other’s humanity?

So it seems that Howard wanted to balance the need for individual freedoms and the need for rules and order in a quest for the perfect conditions to foster a society in which all people had a satisfactory life…something that we as a collective society struggle with even today.

Again, I don’t know why I was surprised at the similarities between then and now, but for some reason I really was…more than a hundred years later and we are still trying to balance the need for freedom with the need for regulation.

Part III coming soon….

02 Apr

Part I – Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City 1898

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.