Surveillance pervades modern society. From CCTV cameras to cellphones to digital tracking, it can be impossible to tell whether someone is watching. This monitoring almost certainly affects our behavior, and theories about exactly how it does have a long history, tracing back to a model of the ideal prison: the Panopticon. Read more
In the aftermath of personal scandals and the 1929 market crash, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright saw a sharp decline in paying clients. With a creative lull, he took the opportunity to begin something new: Broadacre City, a plan he hoped would change the shape of not just architecture, but land use and society across the United States.
Wright outlined the proposal in the 1932 book The Disappearing City and followed it in 1935 with a 12-foot by 12-foot model exhibited at the Rockefeller Center. The core concept is simple, if radical: completely disperse the modern city and give each family at least an acre of land. The details and the defining ideals behind them are considerably more complicated.
About 110 km north of Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of a semi-arid desert, you’ll find an odd sight: a community of rough concrete buildings sitting on a mesa. Inside, brass and ceramic wind-bells are cast and sold, construction on the development continues, and, in theory, all the needs of a modern city are met with minimal environmental impact. This is Arcosanti, the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, built to prove his vision of architecture and ecology working hand in hand. Read more
In the early 1900s, not long after Ebenezer Howard realized his first Garden Cities, another designer put forward his own solution to the woes of urban life. French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, saw the machine age as a chance to remake society and improve the lives of all. Corbu’s ideas, which reached their ultimate form with the Radiant City, proposed nothing less than the complete destruction and replacement of cities with his concept of perfect, ordered environments.
Content Warning: Antisemitism
At the end of World War I, Henry Ford was one of the most famous and powerful men in America. Between his company’s explosive growth, his massive popularity in Michigan and beyond, and his close friendship with President Woodrow Wilson, Ford was on top of the world. At this point, as often happens with men of power, he took an interest in public issues.
At the same time, a massive construction project was grinding to a halt in the Tennessee River Valley. The Wilson Dam had started as a wartime necessity, but the fighting was over. The dam stood half-complete and the river unexploited.
Ford saw this as an opportunity to combine several of his ideals. Here he could push his pacifist tendencies, ideas for new urban design, opposition to the gold standard, and distaste for Wall Street (largely based on his offensive anti-Semitic views). All of these threads came to bear on the as-yet-nonexistent town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Read more
Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities have inspired almost every aspect of modern urban planning. Most suburbs, and many cities, draw on bits and pieces of the design. There are a number who have actually aspired, at least in name, to be true garden cities. It is worth noting that very few have even attempted Howard’s drastic economic and social ideas, and those that did abandoned them not long after founding.
The full list and map of “official” garden cities according to the International Garden Cities Institute, can be found here, but here I’ll just be looking at a few I find interesting.
Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear is Ebenezer Howard.
Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.
In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.