Ebenezer Howard

Orfeas Katsoulis | Oct 7, 2022

Table of Content


Ebenezer Howard, born January 29, 1850 in London and died May 1, 1928 in Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), was a British urban planner. He had a lasting influence on the design of cities.

Ebenezer Howard was a merchant's son, born in London on January 29, 1850. He was exposed to the rural world at a young age, first in Suffolk, then in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and finally completed his education at the age of 15 at Stoke Hall, Ipswich.

An office worker, he learned shorthand at the age of 15 but remained largely self-taught. His first employer, Dr. Parker of the City Temple, for whom he transcribed sermons, remarked that he could have been a good preacher.

Travel to the United States

At the age of 21, influenced by an uncle who was a farmer, he left with two companions for the United States. He settled in Nebraska, in Howard County, where he worked on 65 hectares. He realized that he was not cut out to be a farmer.

He then went to Chicago, where he worked as a court reporter. He arrived as the city was rebuilding after the great fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the business district. Howard witnessed the regeneration of this area and the rapid development of the suburbs.

In the United States, he discovered and admired the poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. American landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted prepares an urban plan for a suburban community, where the layout is informal with spacious plots of land for houses and roads laid out as expressways. Olmsted also designed Central Park in New York.

Return to the UK: awareness

He returned to the United Kingdom in 1876, where he found work at Hansard as editor of the official reports of Parliament, a job he kept for the rest of his life. He was responsible for the recording of debates, committees and commissions.

In 1879, he married Elizabeth Ann Bills, from whom he had three daughters and a son, and nine grandchildren. He returned to America, between 1876 and 1898, because of the introduction of the Remington typewriter in England.

Through his work, Howard became aware and informed of the difficulties Parliament was having in finding solutions to the problems of housing and work. The root of the problem was the massive rural exodus that England was experiencing at the time, in the context of the Great Depression.

The countryside was too poor: work was poorly paid and farm workers could not hope to pay enough rent to encourage the building of new homes. Many left for the Victorian industrial cities, hoping for better wages and work opportunities, leaving the countryside deserted.

However, these cities became overcrowded, prices and rents were high, and the water supply and sewage system were inadequate. Industrial pollution and poor living conditions led to several cholera epidemics between 1831 and 1854. The only solution found was to extend housing to the suburbs.

Around 1884-85, the Royal Commission on Working Class Housing reported poor housing conditions, and in 1888, a major study of urban housing conditions by Charles Booth revealed that 300,000 of the 900,000 inhabitants of East London lived in extreme poverty.

Ebenezer Howard becomes a critic of the harsh conditions of life in the metropolis and the social injustices that prevail there.

In the various intellectual circles he frequented, Howard heard a lot about the question of land. Many ideas are exchanged concerning land ownership, nationalization, taxation, value, and urban squalor.

He was aware of the attempts at community groupings set up by industrialists for their employees. Various experiments can be referenced, such as that of Copley in 1849-53, but the most notable are those of W.H. Lever (1851-1925) and George Cadbury (1839-1922), both of whom were later involved in the garden city movement.

Lever built an empire on the success of Port Sunlight, and in 1888 he began creating a model village on the west bank of the Mersey River near his factory, which resembled a model village of Prices Patent Candles circa 1853.

Lever, who is interested in architecture and urban planning, has also built a home in Thornton Hough, and his developments are becoming a big draw for politicians.

Cadbury produced a slightly different community, leaving half of the housing to the public.

Beginning around 1895, the architect-urbanist Bournville was influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement and created housing developments of semi-detached country houses with their own gardens, allowing families to grow their own food. The quality and design of the housing would later influence the first London County Council housing estates, as well as the construction of New Earswick. The latter village, built by Rowntree employees in 1902, was begun by Parker and Unwin and continued by Letchworth. It prefigured many of the ideas they would develop for the garden city.

Howard's readings include a variety of works on various political and economic theories, and he later credited various philosophers and reformers with almost discovering garden cities. John Ruskin in particular seems to have come close to the garden city concept, with his descriptions of the integration of town and country.

William Morris developed the concept of "environmental decency" in his lectures for the Socialist League, which he said included "sufficient space, healthy, clean and well-built housing, abundant garden space, conservation of the natural landscape, free from pollution and garbage. Raymond Unwin, who would be the architect of the first garden city, joined the Socialist League in the 1880s and was closely involved with Morris.

Howard was also impressed by Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward (which gives a vision of Boston in the year 2000), so much so that he ordered 100 copies to distribute to his friends. This utopian vision of a future city and a society concerned with improving civilization led him to question social issues.

Unlike the latter, however, he was neither collectivist nor authoritarian. He also admires the Russian anarchist Pierre Kropotkin, who defends the idea that the invention of electricity will allow the development of self-managed agro-industrial villages.

The garden city concept

In 1898, he published Tomorrow-. A peaceful path to real reform, in which he proposed to dissolve the city into the countryside, drawing the main advantages of both territories in his garden city project, which should act as a magnet attracting people at the expense of the city and the countryside. The book quickly became a great success.

He advocated the creation of a new type of suburban city, which he called Garden-Cities. He conceived them as a community, governed by a sort of board of directors. They would be subject to planning, limiting them to 32,000 inhabitants. The cities would be completely independent, managed and financed by citizens with an economic interest in them.

They would be circular in shape, with a radius of just over one kilometer, limited in size (4 km2 at most), in the center of an area of about 20 km2 of agricultural space. The urbanized area would be divided into six districts, each bounded by penetrating boulevards. At the heart would be a park surrounded by services available to the population (city hall, theater, hospital, etc.). The shops would be located in the Crystal Palace, a sort of glass gallery protecting the inhabitants from bad weather. The city would be surrounded by a railroad line lined with factories and markets.

They represent, in his eyes, the perfect example of the symbiosis between the city and nature. Indeed, being located on the outskirts of cities, they allow to enjoy the advantages of the city (life in society, well-paid work), while living in the country and having the possibility to enjoy nature, contact with God, and low rents.

To stem the tide of urbanization, Howard argued, residents had to be drawn to self-contained garden cities. Their residents would experience the "joyful union" of city and country. They would live in the heart of these happy blocks in pretty houses surrounded by gardens; they would walk to the factories at the edge of the blocks; and they would be fed by farmers in an outer green zone, which would help keep the city from expanding further into the countryside.

Howard was right about people's desire for more living space, but wrong about the future of cities: what has spread around the world is a tide of urbanization. It has almost reached its peak in the developed countries and in Latin America, where more than 70% of the population lives in urban areas.

He describes his concept in detail with diagrams and economic arguments, but makes it clear that the plan must be adapted to the city's location.

The Garden Cities Association

His book was received with mixed reactions. Howard promoted it, however, and in June 1899 he found enough people interested in his idea to found the Garden Cities Association, now known as the Town and Country Planning Association, the oldest environmental association in England. At the association's meetings, practical ways to implement his plans were discussed.

These members are a selection of politicians, industrialists and professionals who consider a multitude of fields in the committees. In May 1900, the association resolved to form a limited company, but did not set it up until two years later.

In 1901, Ralph Neville K.C. was recruited to the association and elected president. Thomas Adams, a Scots surveyor interested in rural renewal, was appointed secretary. The first conference of the Garden Cities Association was held in 1901, by George Cadbury. Among the speakers was Raymond Unwin, who complimented the London County Council on its recent legislation to improve housing for the working classes. Bernard Shaw also contributed, as did F. Lee Ackerman and H Claphham Lander (the designer of the co-operative apartments in Sollershott East).

The publicity from this conference and the December 1901 general meeting was considerable and Adams represented and promoted the Association in the press and at conferences.

Howard revised and republished his book in 1902 as Garden Cities of Tomorrow, as it has been known ever since.

In 1902, the Garden City Pioneer Company was formed to find and acquire a site for the first garden city. Ralph Neville KC was president, Howard was general manager, and the board included Edward Cadbury, THW Idris and HD Pearsall, an engineer. Major shareholders included George Cadbury, William Lever and A. Harmswoth (the owner of the Daily Mail).

Several sites were considered, but in 1903 Herbert Warrent, the Company's legal counsel, examined the site of Letchford Manor, in Hertfordshire, north of London. The estate was not large enough, but the surrounding land was purchased from other owners. The site was approved in September 1903 and declared open on October 9, 1903 at a ceremony conducted by Earl Grey, Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland.

Several planners were approached to design the plan. Three designs were presented: Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, Lethaby and Riccado, and Lucas and Cranfield. All three groups were inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement.

Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin presented sketches to the board in January 1904, for approval by the Great Northern Railway; they were provisionally accepted. In February, these plans were published on behalf of the company and a public launch was held in London. In March 1904, Parker and Unwin were appointed as consulting architects to oversee the project.

Raymond Unwin, who later inspired the "urban policy" part of U.S. President Roosevelt's New-Deal program, did not follow Howard's prescriptions to the letter and was inspired, for the form of his project, by those of Sir Christopher Wren's 1666 plan for the reconstruction of London: a city arranged around a central square lined with official and cultural buildings.

A second city, designed according to the same principles between 1905 and 1907 by Parker and Unwin in the London suburb of Hampstead, exerted such a fascination on the men of its time that the legislators drafting the Housing and Town Planning Act in 1909 and 1919 came to suggest "the adoption of the Garden City model for the construction of social housing.

His contacts with the German architects Hermann Muthesius and Bruno Taut resulted in the application of the principles of human design in numerous housing projects built in the Weimar years. Hermann Muthesius played an important role in the creation of the first German garden city in Hellerau in 1909, the only garden city in Germany where Howard's ideas were fully adopted.

The individual garden city was part of a larger plan proposing a cluster of garden cities around a central town, linked together, sharing recreational facilities and services. To this end, Howard acquired the land at Welwyn shortly after Letchworth was started.

Mrs. Howard died in 1904, just as construction of Letchworth was beginning, and Howard came to live in the first garden city himself in 1905. He remarried in 1907. He lived for a time in Norton Way South and in Homesgarth from 1911.

A second garden city, that of Welwyn, was started after the First World War (in 1919). Its plans were entrusted to the architect Louis de Soissons. He moved there in 1921 and remained there until his death on May 1, 1928, after being diagnosed in March as suffering from a chest infection and stomach cancer. He was knighted in 1927.

However, his garden cities did not reach the size he had originally intended and were not replicated. Some of his ideas were, however, taken up by urban planners in the United Kingdom after the Second World War. Several initiatives are however sometimes far from the original meaning of the term "garden city", as in France, the simple project of social housing with gardens remaining far from the initial idea of Howard. As Le Point notes in a special issue devoted to utopias: "Contrary to what he and Kropotkin thought, the new means of transportation have not so much allowed the emergence of a new way of conceiving the city as the infinite development of suburbs, leading to the sprawling megacities of today.

Howard was elected president of the newly formed Garden Cities and Town Planning Federation in 1913, an internationally influential organization now known as FIHUAT

The French branch of the FIHUAT is the COFHUAT (Confédération française pour l'Habitation, l'Urbanisme et l'Aménagement des Territoires).

Among Ebenezer Howard's direct descendants are his grandson Geoffrey Howard (cricket player and administrator), cricket manager as well as his great-great-grandson, educator George Colin Howard and daughter Leah Elisabeth Howard.

Howard was a strong advocate of Esperanto and often used the language in his lectures. In 1907, welcoming 500 Esperanto speakers to Letchworth Garden City, the first garden city, Howard predicted that the language, and his new utopia, would soon spread around the world.

He was knighted by King George V.


  1. Ebenezer Howard
  2. Ebenezer Howard
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l et m F. S., « L'avènement des villes vertes », Le Point Références - « Utopies », n°56, mars-avril 2015, p. 62.
  4. en:Ebenezer Howard
  5. ^ Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 978-0-14-102715-9.
  6. Penguin Pocket On This Day. [S.l.]: Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0
  7. Kenneth Frampton: Die Architektur der Moderne, München 2010, ISBN 978-3421030757.

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