Ebenezer Howard’s book, originally published in London in 1898 as To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform and then in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow, proposed a peaceful but inherently radical experiment in city, town, and regional planning aimed at creating more healthy, self-sufficient, and just places to live and work that balanced the open space of the countryside with the cultural vibrancy of the city. This book, which would prove to be foundational to much new economic thinking, can be found in the Schumacher library’s general collection.

Although he is often blamed by urban planners as the progenitor of 20th Century suburbs, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept was actually premised on a revolutionary reimagining of land ownership. Horrified by the poverty and ill-health of 19th Century industrial England and inspired by the ideas of Henry George, Howard envisioned a municipality where all the land would be owned by the residents through a trust--a structure very much like what eventually became known as the community land trust--allowing the residents to produce to meet their own needs, free from the high rents caused by speculative land ownership.

According to Howard's vision, the Garden City would be situated in the center of a green belt. Residential, commercial, and cultural activities would be in the center, with manufacturing and transportation hubs around the outer edge. The city itself would only take up 1,000 of the total 6,000-acre estate. The surrounding green land would be reserved for agriculture, leisure, and recovery.

To avoid the destruction of this productive agricultural zone, Howard argues that the green belt must be inviolable, and that communities must not grow by expansion, but rather by replication. In other words, once a Garden City reaches the limit of its resources, a whole new Garden City must be built, complete with the envelope of agricultural land, manufacturing ring, and cultural, residential, and commercial center.

Readers have often become preoccupied with the physical design of Howard’s Garden Cities, but the more fruitful lessons can be found in the economic design he describes. Enabled by community ownership of land, he anticipates a strong local economy defined by a close collaboration between producers and consumers. Farmers will be able to grow delicate fruits and vegetables thanks to the proximate and predictable market right next door. Shopkeepers will be incentivized through the terms of their leases to charge reasonable prices, be honest about the quality of goods offered, and treat their employees well. The elected municipal government would deploy the revenue generated by (universal) land rents for public works such as infrastructure, education, health, and recreation.

The ideas set forth in Garden Cities of To-morrow reverberate through the economic movement that E. F. Schumacher helped to start when he wrote Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, in 1973. Beneath all of Howard’s facts and figures there is an underlying argument that scale matters, governance and ownership matter, and production should be as local as possible. Garden Cities couldn’t be healthy, beautiful, responsive and efficient if they grew too big, if the land was not owned as a whole by the residents, if the people did not govern themselves, and if they could not be productively employed, with producers and consumers cooperating to make the goods and provide the services needed.

 

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This report was written by Schumacher Center board member Alice Maggio