The Garden City Movement

The Garden City Movement

The Garden City Movement was founded by Mr Ebenezer Howard in 1898, after the publication of his book ‘Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Social Reform’ (reissued in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow) (1). In his work, Howard described his idealistic city where people were able to live in harmony with urban development and nature. In the Victorian era, London was going through its peak of industrialisation, every day becoming more polluted and overcrowded. During this period masses of people were leaving the countryside looking for more opportunities in the capital and as such London was turning into an unhealthy and chaotic place to live. The Garden City Movement created by Howard was intended to bridge the gap between the benefits of the countryside and the efficiency of a city (2).

Three Magnets

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The first page of Howards 1898 book is occupied with the Three Magnet Diagram (3), this diagram shows the pros and cons of the Town and the Country and creates a hypothetical Town-Country, made of the pros from the town and the country merged together, pictured as three magnets. The diagram asks of these three options: Where will they (The People) go? Howard response was: “Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union, will spring a new hope, a new life a new civilisations.” (3) This marriage was then named by him as Garden City.

Howard’s proposal for a Garden city had a limited size, a fixed capacity and a very precise organisation of spaces. Any garden city required a group of initial investors willing to buy a plot of land and develop the garden city. The garden city was proposed as a long term investment where the owner would set rents at an affordable price, and the profits from the project would be long term. In theory, after few decades, the city would show good profits if the rents were kept to a fixed price. In the meantime the city was ideated to be self-sustainable (2). The structure was circular, with a radial growth from the centre. A garden was located in the very centre with civic institutions, such as Town Hall, Library, Hospital and Theatre along its perimeter. From the central garden radial streets and boulevards would extend towards the outer perimeter crossing a series of concentric ringed tree lined avenues. Wide green parks and open spaces would be placed between residential and recreational areas. All the industry and commercial warehouses were to be located around the peripheral rings, easily reachable by the boulevards but distant from the centre and the residential blocks (3).

Garden City Movement

Figure 2-

At peak capacity (ideally no more than 50,000 people for a central city and 32,000 people for a satellite city) it was proposed that the garden city should be connected to another garden city, creating a network, avoiding overcrowding, but “always preserving a belt of country.”

Howard founded The Garden City Association in 1899 as a first step for the newly born movement (4). This led to the establishment of The Garden City Pioneer Company in 1902, which was a group of generous investors who put forward money and land to put into practice Howard’s project for the first time (5). This first Garden City was named Letchworth Garden City.

Letchworth Garden City is 35 miles to the north of London and it is the very first garden city in the world. It was developed in 1903 and is still in place. It is currently the best example of how a Garden City should look, and has its own weaknesses and strengths. Looking at Letchworth from aerial photography you can see how remarkable the proportion of public green space is in comparison with the actual extension of the city. However, walking through its roads it appears that the centre is wide and depersonalised, with long and straight roads to avoid the traffic jam – the city is quiet and calm (2).


Figure 3-

What went wrong in this design? What happened to Ebenezer Howard’s envisioned utopia of a garden city network? Unfortunately the practical result was something very far from an alive city, the Garden City design created a quiet dormitory (suburbs) with scattered and dispersive social points (city centre) (2).However, Howard’s idea left a strong legacy in the modern planning design, giving to it a social and community dimension.

The reason why the garden city movement has been revolutionary and is still currently inspirational for many is because a Garden City is based on valuable principles such as the collective land ownership, the affordability of rents and low rate of taxes, the importance of citizens’ wellbeing, as well as the importance of the country and our relationship with it (8). All of these principles are still as relevant today as they were 100 of years ago, however, we are living in an era where rents are rising, mortgages are difficult to obtain for the majority of the population and we are experiencing a constant shortfall in housing provision (6). For the future, we would like to find a way to apply the urbanistic life style proposed by Howard to modern planning, where the quality is more important than quantity and investments are not focused on short term incomes (1,9).


  1. Ebenezer Howard: Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902) (30 October 2010) online at:
  2. Garden Cities – An English Illusion (24 June 2012) online at:
  3. Howard, E., & Osborn, F. J. (1965) reedition – Garden cities of to-morrow (Vol. 23).. Mit Press.
  4. TCPA online at:
  5.  Neville, Ralph, et al. THE GARDEN CITY ASSOCIATION – The Lancet170.4396 (1907): 1565.
  6. Housing: What to do? (23 May 2013) online at:
  7. Livesey, G. D. (2013). Assemblage Theory, Ecology and the Legacy of the Early Garden City (Doctoral dissertation, TU Delft, Delft University of Technology).
  8. New garden cities must offer genuinely affordable homes, says charity (22 April 2014) online at:
  9. The garden city movement: from Ebenezer to Ebbsfleet, (17 March 2014) online at: blog/2014/mar/17/ebbsfleet-garden-city-george-osborne (link no longer available from referral website)
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Sep 28, 2016

Eugenia Siccardi