Le Corbusier: From the Contemporary City to the Radiant City

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.

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Henry Ford’s Muscle Shoals

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

Garden Cities Around the World

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.

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Ebenezer Howard and Letchworth: The First Garden City

Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear will 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.

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EPCOT: Smart City?

The original project that spawned this blog asked the question: Was EPCOT a smart city? The term “smart city” has sprung up in the early 21st century to describe any city using new technology and data-driven strategies to improve the lives of residents. Dr. Margarita Angelidou, in her paper titled “The Role of Smart City Characteristics in the Plans of Fifteen Cities,” lays out 10 characteristics of smart cities, and sees how well various modern smart city projects measure up. Here, I’d like to do the same for Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Read more

Walt Disney’s EPCOT and the Evolution of a Vision

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Walt Disney prepares to explain EPCOT in the Florida Film, 1966. Credit: The Walt Disney Company via the-original-epcot.com

On October 27, 1966, just a few months before his death, Walt Disney recorded a 25-minute film in which he laid out a grand plan for the 27,000 acres his company had recently purchased in central Florida. Speculation had been rampant, but this “Florida Film” was the first time Disney showed his hand. It was here that he detailed plans for what would become the Magic Kingdom and, eventually, Walt Disney World Resort, but this was far from the film’s focus. Instead, Disney was proposing an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. EPCOT, as it would be called, would be a city of 20,000, drawing on the “new ideas and new technologies” of American industry.

The Epcot Center, which opened in 1981 and remains in operation, is not this city. Only now are governments, companies, and people around the world beginning to build communities as forward thinking as EPCOT was in 1966. As the foundations of today’s smart cities are laid, we should take a moment to ask what Walt Disney’s vision can tell us about our future.

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