- Invented Edens: Techno-Cities of the Twentieth Century
Invented Edens offers an engaging and highly readable account of the history of a phenomenon that Robert Kargon and Arthur Molella describe as “technocities.” Seeking to shed light on cities including Norris, Tennessee; Torviscosa (Italy); Sotsgorod (Soviet Union/Uzbekistan); Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Ciudad Guyana (Venezuela); Le Vaudreuil (France); and Celebration, Florida, they reframe the creation and evolution of several much-studied places as variations on a theme: urban environments “planned and developed in conjunction with large technological or industrial projects [End Page 481] . . . the twentieth-century descendants of the paternalistic company towns of the Industrial Revolution” (pp. 1–2).
Yet while the company town is one past urban model that helps to situate the reader’s understanding of the subject at hand, for its major argument the book looks to the garden city. Running throughout the text is the authors’ contention that Ebenezer Howard’s garden city served as a continuing inspiration in this multiplicity of efforts to construct technocities across time and space. Conventionally characterized as a vision of an urban environment that sought to integrate aspects of the natural world as a critical response to the challenges of industrialization, Howard’s work to promote the garden city has attracted ample scholarly attention. What the authors of Invented Edens offer that is new is a reminder to readers that, despite Howard’s nostalgic vision of a pastoral existence that would alleviate the problems of industrial society, science and technology figured prominently in his garden city plans. An early chapter that reexamines Howard’s writings in preliminary draft and final form highlights the central functions of science and technology in the garden city, laying the foundation for the case studies in subsequent chapters. Perhaps most important, the authors remind us of Howard’s preferred self-characterization as an “inventor” rather than “designer” or “planner,” providing fuel to their claims that technocities themselves are “purpose-driven inventions.”
Subsequent chapters roam the globe from the United States and Europe to Russia and South America. These materials are organized chronologically rather than by nation, tracking the circulation and interpretations of Howard’s work from the 1920s to the present. The book contains many excellent illustrations of the cities in plan and built form. The sheer number of examples presented is one of the strengths of the book, providing clear support for the authors’ contention about the primacy of science and technology in interpretations and reinterpretations of the garden city ideal.
The presentational style that is a key strength occasionally detracts from the book’s description of its cases, because the reader wants to learn more about the variety of urban environments discussed. In particular, far more attention is lavished on the vision and planning stages for these technocities than on the longer-term results of their construction. While the authors observe in the introduction that, to distinguish their study from the voluminous literature on utopian thought, they selected only those places that were built rather than those that were simply dreamed up (with Minnesota Experimental City as the sole exception), some of the opportunity to dig into the implementation phase is missed. Undoubtedly this is related in part to the availability of source materials, but one wonders especially about the experience of the people who lived in these technocities. How did they perceive the role of science and technology? Was it salient in their [End Page 482] everyday experience, or did it fade into the background as it has for so many scholarly interpreters of the garden city and its legacy?
Dr. Light is associate professor at the School of Communication and the Departments of History and Sociology at Northwestern University and director of the Media, Technology, and Society Program.