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1 At the end of the 19th century, London
was home to over six million people, making it the most populated city in the
world. With such a dense population, many people were living in increasingly crowded,
polluted slums. Concerned by this development, a man named Ebenezer Howard began
to think about how people could live in cleaner and more pleasant environments.
In 1898, he self-published a book that presented his ideas on how to create
cities where people can live in harmony with nature—so-called garden cities.
His ideas came to greatly influence the way we think about cities, and encouraged
the development of modern urban planning.

2 Basically, Howard argued that people should
leave the dirty, crowded cities and move to new garden cities. In the center of
these cities would be attractive houses and gardens; rents would be affordable
for people even on low incomes; people would walk to work in factories at the edge,
and eat food grown by farms in an outer greenbelt. Importantly, these cities
would be self-sustaining, with profits used to improve public facilities, enabling
all residents to benefit. When one town filled to its greenbelt—about 30,000
people, Howard calculated—it would be time to build the next one. In 1907, Howard
welcomed people to the first ever garden city, a town named Letchworth, about 60
kilometers north of London. He predicted that such cities would become
increasingly common around the world.

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3 However, things did not turn out as
Howard had predicted. In fact, it was urbanization that spread globally. In the
19th century, London was the only city of more than five million; now there are
over 50—the majority in Asia where millions of people have moved into cities
from suburban areas and the countryside. In the world’s most developed
countries, it is estimated that more than 70 percent of people live in urban

4 Unlike in Victorian England, when
cities were seen negatively, urbanization today tends to be seen in a mostly positive
light. In fact, many experts believe that dense cities may be our best solution
for coping with a global population of up to 10 billion. Cities have distinct advantages:
the close proximity, for example, enables people to learn from one another;
this helps them become more successful and increases their incomes. As Harvard
economist Edward Glaeser points out, “there’s no such thing as a poor urbanized
country; there’s no such thing as a rich rural country.”

5 Despite the rise of large cities all
over the world, several aspects of garden cities—such as the importance of
people’s well-being, and the need for green space to enhance the environment—are
all relevant today. These principles have influenced planners in a variety of
countries. In the U.S., a number of developments incorporate garden city
principles; the town of Seaside, for example, on the coast of Florida, has 350
houses spread over 80 acres with cultural and leisure facilities. Many other
garden cities exist around the world, in places like France, Australia, South
Africa, Japan, and China.

6 The original garden city of Letchworth
still exists, and remains an attractive and popular place to live. And the principles
it was founded on are inspiring new developments around the world. In the U.K.,
for example, nearly 50,000 new homes are planned in 14 garden villages around
the country. In India, planners are exploring how garden city principles can be
put into practice in the development of medium-sized cities, to help them cope with
future growth. One hundred years later, Letchworth and its garden city
principles are very much alive.     

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