Are Garden Cities the solution to UK’s housing crisis?

Ever since Ebenezer Howard first published his book ‘Tomorrow: a peaceful path to real reform’ in 1898, Garden Cities have been a highly influential but also extremely controversial concept. During the 20th century, the idea had a profound effect on urban planning not only because it was used as a framework for the building of many new settlements and suburbs, but also because it was recognised as a milestone in planning theory and inspired a number of urban design movements. Nevertheless, the Garden City also suffered heavy criticism for being a destructive, impractical and utopian planning model.

Timeline of the development of the Garden City concept 1898-2015

First developed as an antidote to the problems of the 19th century industrial city, the Garden City was devised as a thoroughly planned decentralised settlement combining the virtues of town and country. However, its built interpretations were then called ‘amputated areas [that] typically develop galloping gangrene’ [1]. The concept was disapproved of by architects, urbanists and anthropologists for theoretical, as well as practical reasons.

Timeline of the recent Garden City controversy 2011 – 2015

Howard’s model has re-surfaced recently as a possible solution to the housing crisis in Britain. Politicians, economists and planners are looking back at the 117-year-old idea with inspirations similar to those a century ago – that the Garden City has the potential to solve the problems of existing cities. It is widely agreed that a minimum of 200,000 homes need to be built every year to meet current demand. As building rates are far short of this at present, one possible solution is envisaged in the construction of entirely new communities following Ebenezer Howard’s model [2]. Meanwhile, opinions that this is a ‘panicked retreat to the 20th century solutions of urban sprawl’ [3] are also emerging.

Are Garden Cities the solution to UK’s housing crisis? What do you think?


[1]  Jacobs, J. (1993) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Modern Library.

[2]  Pullan, C. and Thomas, E. (2015) ‘The relevance of the Garden City for the 21st century.’ Urban Design Journal, (134) pp. 15.

[3]  Rogers, R. (2014) ‘Forget about greenfield sites, build in the cities.’ The Guardian. [Online] 15th July. [Accessed on 27th January 2015]

Read more about the recent re-surfacing of the Garden City concept in my Masters dissertation here.


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