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Chapter 2 The Garden City in America Even as the elements of Progressivism were first stirring in America, an obscure English stenographer named Ebenezer Howard published with his own funds a modest looking tract with the pretentious title To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. The product of years of discussion in moderately radical English circles, Howard’s extended essay proposed nothing less than the elimination of the capitalist exploitation that had characterized English cities as the scourge of the Western world. Influenced by a range of utopian thinkers, not least two nineteenth-century American reformers who themselves had fundamentally challenged the ill effects of urban industrial development, Henry George and Edward Bellamy , Howard incorporated elements of each critique. His proposed solution was unique, however, in that he sought to solve the problem of urban industrialism by the formation of a new kind of community, what he called the ‘‘garden city.’’ Located apart from existing cities, but with comparable economic opportunities shorn of the associated exploitation that followed from low pay and high rents, Howard believed his new creation could so undermine existing economic and social arrangements as to make them wither away. As cooperative in spirit as Bellamy’s utopian future but without its authoritarian control, as economically just as George’s ‘‘single tax’’ economy but without the expropriation of any single class, this was to be a peaceful revolution effected through design. In the words of Robert Fishman , ‘‘Howard was, in his quiet way, a revolutionary who originally conceived the Garden City as a means of superseding capitalism and creating a civilization based on cooperation.’’1 Howard’s vision would be modified in England as it was first put into effect in the form of model versions of his plan and subsequently adopted as the basis for a national policy of town planning. It would be further modified in the United States, initially under the direction of the Russell Sage PAGE 23 ................. 17669$ $CH2 02-23-10 13:51:58 PS 24 Chapter 2 Foundation’s construction of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, New York, and subsequently in experimental projects pressed alternatively by the War Industries Board, the small but influential Regional Planning Association of America, and finally the New Deal’s Resettlement Administration’s new towns program. The scope and intent of the efforts differed in detail, but propelling every one was an unrelenting confidence in the power of a proper physical environment to enhance and sustain a vital civic life. Howard’s garden city vision percolated a long time before he fully articulated it. Influenced in part by his own experience with poverty during a brief experience as a homesteader in Nebraska, his introduction to critical political theory followed his return to London in 1876, when he joined a number of earnest discussion groups. Appalled by the concentration of wealth in England, these critics were too substantial themselves to seek a Marxist overthrow of the system. Instead, they sought the means to greater cooperation, favoring such innovations as profit sharing in production and cooperative stores.2 Howard was himself greatly influenced by a number of contemporary critics, including James Silk Buckingham’s vision to create the planned community of Victoria (set within an agricultural belt and owned cooperatively), and the social critiques of Alfred Marshall and Thomas Spence.3 His concern with the concentration of land in the hands of the few gained visibility and a specifically urban focus under the influence of Henry George. His series of lectures in London in 1882 ignited interest in George’s 1879 book Progress and Poverty and generated proposals for solving the problems associated with industrial crowding by forming new communities devoted to combining the conveniences of town life and with the salubrious environment of the country.4 Such proposals undoubtedly influenced Howard, but it was in reading Bellamy’s utopian novel, Looking Backward, that Howard’s still inchoate ideas about poverty solidified. Reporting that he had been carried away by reading the book shortly after its publication in 1888, Howard described his actions the next morning: I went into some of the crowded parts of London, and as I passed through the narrow dark streets, saw the wretched dwellings in which the majority of the people lived, observed on every hand the manifestations of a self-seeking order of society and reflected on the absolute unsoundness of our economic system, there came to me an overpowering sense of the temporary nature of all I saw, and of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812205282
Related ISBN
9780812242478
MARC Record
OCLC
794700586
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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