An Ideal City?

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City Beautiful and Garden City movements

White City’s beauty

An event rather than a city plan helped give rise to the City Beautiful movement – one of the most influential town planning models of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Architect Daniel Burnham led a team of leading American designers, including Frederick Law Olmsted, to create the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The temporary buildings and monuments of the ‘White City’ were constructed in neo-classical style, and flanked water features and other grand public spaces. The coordinated design of the Exposition inspired Walter Burley Griffin in his planning for Canberra.

Revamping the metropolis

Major redevelopment schemes for big cities were another factor in the rise of modern town planning. Daniel Burnham (1846–1912) was involved in two American projects. The Senate Park Commission’s 1902 plan to revitalise L’Enfant’s plan for Washington DC attracted world-wide interest. And the 1909 plan for Chicago showed how artistic vision could fuse with pragmatic ideas about efficient cities at a metropolitan scale.

Gardens in the city

Belief in a new form of community with all the advantages but none of the disadvantages of town and country evident in an industrialising England in the 19th century, led Ebenezer Howard to develop his Garden City ideas. He published his influential book, Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform, in 1898. It was reissued as Garden Cities of Tomorrow in 1902.

Howard had many influences, and called his work a ‘unique combination of proposals’. His design ideas were influenced by both dignified Georgian towns like Bath and moden park and community plans, including Frederick Law Olmsted’s model suburb of Riverside (1869), near Chicago. Australia also inspired Howard. He included in his book a sketch of the plan of Adelaide, designed in the 1830s by Colonel William Light. Splitting the city into smaller sections surrounded by parklands was a major influence on the idea of the green belt.

Howard’s Garden City ideas inspired the development of Letchworth in 1903. Located in Hertfordshire, outside London, it was Britain’s first planned garden city. Its designers, Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, also planned Hampstead Garden Suburb in London in 1907.