JF Ptak Science Books Post 275
Ebenezar Howard (1850-1928), London-born failed Nebraskan farmer, Chicagoan stenographer, London Parliamentary reporter and non-obscure semi-visionary of town planning in The Future, drew some mighty pretty images of cities best reserved for random placement in the Encyclopedia of Difficult Imaginary Places. Ideas about technically based Victorian wanderings on what to do with the laboring classes must’ve been brewing in his head for some time before he self-published them in his Tomorrow, a Peaceful Path to Reform in 1898. The ideas took shape in the for of Garden Cities—which, frankly, have a very industrial and technical look to them, which although brimming with forests and gardens and parks and green spaces galore still had a weird orthographic and predictable quality to them, making them look like green machines. He hoped to start a revolution in city design, and his ideas proved popular enough to be forced into a new edition in 1902 in his Garden Cities of tomorrow, and then reprinted again in 1946 with a forward by none other than Lewis Mumford.
I should say that I don’t “get” his design (which in all fairness, Howard provides a mea culpa for each of his drawings saying that the ideas really need to be implemented with an actual environmental footprint before they could be done) though I certainly do understand his idea. The garden city philosophy came to Howard after seeing the mess of Chicago following the great fire of 1871, and also by way of the writing of people like Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward) and John Ruskin, as well as utopian movements and things like the social “discovery” by Ed Booth and others of the miserable conditions of the million or so people in East London. The idea of people living in such an environmentally destitute area like East London must’ve seen appalling to him, and perhaps the thought of the industrialized and centralized urban landscape would’ve fallen into this same category as well. The best resource for curing such revolutionary societal ills for Howard was nature. , or rather wrapping nature around lesser urban centers and being far more attuned to the relationship between the earth and that the communities that we build, which is a fabulous idea, though I hardly think that Howard was
the first to it. He was though the force behind the first planned garden city in England—Letchworth—so he certainly did have an impact on others who were thinking about the same sort of things. His own designs, though, seem distant and necessarily undoable to me.