The garden city is notoriously difficult to define. The sheer variety of forms, social goals, and institutional arrangements associated with the garden city since its inception at the close of the 19th century invalidate any attempt to fix its physical attributes, class character, or political meanings. The proliferation of terms such as garden suburb, garden village, Faubourg-jardin, Gartensiedlung, tuinstadt, and den-entoshi further complicates the subject. The uses and meanings of these terms are integral to the history of the transnational routes of the garden city. The heterogeneity of the garden city cannot be explained away as the inevitable evolution of an idea as it came to be applied in different societies. Instead, each invocation, incarnation, and translation of the garden city should be analyzed as a distinct act of inscribing new spatial, social, economic, and political relations. Although this vein of criticism is gaining currency, notably in recent histories of the garden city in the ex-colonial world, earlier scholarship tends to presuppose the existence of a unitary garden city movement. Attending to the garden city as if it were a text would allow for careful analysis of the different meanings of the garden city among real estate developers, architects, planners, organized labor, and New Age religious movements. Recovering the texture of garden city projects would reveal their work in producing new economic and political contexts. It would also uncover the place of the garden city as a physical and discursive site for delineating cultural difference within and across societies. Approaching the garden city as if it were a text would recuperate the pivotal role of books and journals in the transnational formation of the garden city. Conceptually and etymologically, a text is a weaving of different strands that is always susceptible to coming undone in its encounter with a reader. Moving beyond the stated intention of garden city pioneers and tracking the often-fraught encounter between competing ideas animating urban design and planning projects is essential for recovering the entanglement of the garden city in the globalization of capital, people, and ideas in the first half of the 20th century.
Overviews of the garden city tend to be anchored in the biography of its putative founder: Ebenezer Howard. They suggest that the garden city was born of Howard’s time as an immigrant and unsuccessful homesteader in the United States in the 1870s. Mumford 1945 and Hall 2014, which remain tenaciously influential despite their shortcomings, exemplify this biographical approach. More controversially, they plot the trajectories of the garden city movement primarily in terms of the English and American reception of Howard’s ideas. This perspective forecloses detailed consideration of projects that had little, if any, link to Howard, dismissively describing certain settlements as deviations from Howard’s core idea. Stern, et al. 2013 presents a different approach to the study of the garden city, provincializing Howard’s role while emphasizing possible 19th-century antecedents to the urban forms and landscape designs associated with the garden city. In general, overviews presuppose, rather than question, the coherence of planning as a response to rapid urbanization. As a result, they ignore the call for spiritual and social renewal pervading the garden city discourse, especially in the interwar period.
Hall, Peter. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Planning and Design Since 1880. 4th ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.
Foundational text of planning history. On the garden city, see pp. 90–148.
Mumford, Lewis. “The Garden City Idea and Modern Planning.” In Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Edited by F. J. Osborn, 29–40. London: Faber and Faber, 1945.
A tendentious presentation of the garden city as a forerunner of regional planning.
Stern, Fishman, and Tilove. Planned Paradise: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City. New York: Monacelli Press, 2013.
An uneven global survey with copious historic and contemporary illustrations. Does not clarify how garden cities, suburbs, and villages differ from their 19th-century antecedents.
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