Achieved Utopias: Garden Cities
Garden cities are the best example of the impact a utopia can have on society.
Utopias could belong to the world of fantasy, but there also exist examples of utopian precepts that have been used to build real cities. Toward the end of the 19th century in England, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, a slew of thinkers appeared that sought to reconcile the city with the countryside, the urban with the natural world.
Among them was William Morris, an English thinker and promoter of the arts and crafts movement, the founder of Morris and Company, which designed furniture and objects in a medieval style, often with floral and animal motifs. Morris believed that the beauty that surrounds us contributes to making us better people. Part of that theory led him to write News from Nowhere. In this utopian narrative, Morris wrote that the over population of large cities foments a vicious cycle of poverty that leads to drink and crime. His idea was to create colonies in the countryside and reduce the size of cities.
A few years later, Ebenezer Howard picked up on some of Morris’ ideas and wrote To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, which was later republished as Garden Cities of To-morrow. “Human society and natural beauty should be enjoyed together,” Howard wrote in that book and which proposed abolishing private land ownership and creating communally owned cities. He suggested revitalizing the countryside to lower the population of cities and in their place build cities full of green areas. “The city and the countryside should join in marriage, and from that happy union a new hope would be born, a new life, a new civilization.”
His cities were designed in concentric circles. In the central circle there was an enormous park with a special garden for winter. That was followed by a second circle for the government buildings, followed by a circle of houses and gardens and an avenue full of trees. The houses would be of varied architectural styles and they would have communal gardens and dining rooms that would function as cooperatives. Schools, children’s play areas, more gardens and religious centers would be on the public avenue. Factories would be built on the outer circle so that pollution would not invade the city. Warehouses (so that agricultural products could more easily reach the stores), markets and more houses would also be there.
Before his death, Howard did see the building of towns based on his utopia: Letchworth, built by a community of Quakers, and Welwyn Garden City. The cities remain green and inspiring places to this day. During his lifetime, the construction of other cities in Finland, Australia and Germany also began. Those cities are proof that a harmonious balance can be drawn between humans and nature and that utopias are not escapist fantasies, but rather lighthouses, beacons that show possible directions. Both possible and real.
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