Following the Industrial Revolution, many European cities faced an unprecedented rise in the rate of population growth, intensified by the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas seeking better opportunities.
Although cities became more inviting, problems such as pollution and the growth of informal settlements also intensified. Meanwhile, the countryside provided proximity to nature and an abundance of natural resources, but it also suffered from isolation and a decrease in employment opportunities.
In light of these issues, in the late nineteenth century, the concept of garden cities was created. This model of urban planning was characterized by progressive ideals to solve the problems of rural flight and the resulting disorderly growth of urban areas. The garden city concept was based on the creation of a series of small cities that would combine the advantages of both environments.
Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), who had been studying cities before the establishment of urbanism as an academic field, was one of the most influential people behind the garden city movement. Howard published To-morrow a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), a book that was reprinted four years later as Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902), for which he became widely known.
In addition to his publications, Howard also organized the Garden City Association in 1899 in England to promote the ideas of social justice, economic efficiency, beautification, health, and well-being in the context of city planning.
The Three Magnets Diagram, particularly emblematic in terms of summarizing the ideas of garden cities, is featured in the first pages of both versions of Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Each illustrated magnet represents a specific environment: the town, the country, and the town-country. The first two magnets list the positives and negatives of town life and country life, while the third magnet combines the advantages of both.
This third magnet contains such promising qualities of the garden city that it shifts the title to the center of the diagram, as opposed to the first two, suggesting a strong attraction between the question The people: where will they go? and the many advantages offered by this model of urban planning.
"At the beginning of the twentieth century, two great new inventions took form before our eyes: the aeroplane and the Garden City, both harbingers of a new age: the first gave man wings and the second promised him a better dwelling-place when he came down to earth." - Lewis Mumford (1946)
The idealized vision of the garden city contained specific utopian elements like small communities planned on a concentric pattern that would accommodate housing, industry, and agriculture, surrounded by greenbelts that would limit their growth. Many diagrams and maps illustrate clusters of several garden cities, which was an important aspect to ensure the effectiveness of the garden cities.
Cities like Letchworth, Welwyn, and Stockfeld in England, were built using these ideas, but the concept was influential in other countries too, even outside Europe, with adaptations and reinterpretations according to different geographical and historical contexts.
This concept is still frequently revisited to this day - albeit considerably different from the original idea - to propose urban planning solutions that attempt, at least in theory, greater integration between urban areas and green spaces.
But even considering this theoretical and conceptual gap between Howard's ideas and the more recent urban planning projects, the latter certainly highlights the importance of studying and understanding these concepts to this day.
- HOWARD, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd., 1902.
- MUMFORD, Lewis. The Garden City Idea and Modern Planning. In: HOWARD, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow. London: Faber and Faber, 1946.
- ROSS, Rebecca; MOGILEVICH, Mariana; CAMPKIN, Ben. Ebenezer Howard's three magnets. The Guardian, 05 December 2014.