Why garden cities are streets ahead

As George Osborne plans a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, Sarah Rutherford hopes he'll remember the progressive ideals upon which these urban utopias were founded

In promoting Ebbsfleet and the concept of the garden city, George Osborne is an unlikely successor to the father of the garden city, Ebenezer Howard. A century after the genesis of the garden city, would Howard, "the garden city geyser", as George Bernard Shaw labelled his campaigning friend, have approved of Osborne and his plans?

Howard was a man of the people, from a humble background, passionate to improve the lot of the working family; our Osborne has been labelled one of those Etonian posh boys who doesn't know the price of a pint of milk. But Howard was not afraid to call on the rich and influential in the cause of implementing his vision to provide a sustainable, planned settlement in which anyone would be pleased to live and work.

Howard's vision was precise: to create a town for healthy living, with industry for its residents, of a size for a full social life but not larger. Land zoning was a key feature for the housing, industry, civic centre and open spaces. He saw it surrounded by a rural belt held for the community. It was a self-sustaining, visionary town. Only two true garden cities were built in England, first at Letchworth, started in the 1900s, then Welwyn, begun in the 1920s. But the concept was so influential and attractive it quickly went global, and many were built worldwide.

So can Osborne possibly hope to follow this precedent and make a success of it? Do he and his advisers understand the concept properly? Do they realise that a garden city is more than just a bunch of nice houses in cherry tree-lined streets? It is a vision: a sustainable, vibrant community of bricks and mortar and work, with social and political aspects, not just a dormitory suburb where commuting is the only option to make a living. There are three things Osborne needs to get right. Firstly, have a vision for the place. Don't just let housing developers swamp the place with ticky-tacky boxes on the edge of an existing town. Start from scratch. Set up a development corporation with visionary planners and designers who know how to plan properly for the facilities and industry of a full town and give people what they would like to live in. Why are garden cities so popular to live in? They have pleasing buildings in appealing materials and styles, plenty of open space to offset the necessary industry, and a civic core residents want to use.

The garden city of Letchworth was envisioned by Ebenezer Howard The garden city of Letchworth was envisioned by Ebenezer Howard (Alamy) Secondly, make it sustainable. Give Ebbsfleet the means to support itself. The employment opportunities must be practical, varied and attractive, with good transport links to the rest of the country. In Letchworth and Welwyn, iconic, pioneering and, yes, even attractive, industrial buildings were commissioned by the industrialists who ran Spirella Corsets and Shredded Wheat, who were major employers in the respective garden cities.

Finally, give it a heart. Howard's garden city worked as a self-sufficient town with a social purpose. Ebbsfleet needs a sufficient mass and mix of residents to create and enjoy the social, political, educational and cultural ingredients of a vibrant community. Letchworth was mocked for some of its early residents,who had alternative ideas about ways of living. George Orwell derided it for attracting socialists and communists, along with "every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, nature cure quack, pacifist and feminist in England". By the end of the War to End All Wars, Letchworth had matured and its residents were a valued part of Britain's war effort.

First garden city in almost 100 years to be built in Ebbsfleet, confirms Chancellor George Osborne

Is our Osborne up to fulfilling this utopian vision? He is hardly another William Morris or Ebenezer Howard, but if he can call upon some of his rich chums to back this venture he will be following in Howard's footsteps. In 1903, Howard's vision did not offer a very secure investment to the average investor, but he attracted enough influential men of means with an interest in the scheme and more than ordinary nerve and resolution, who were willing to invest, and in the first year more than £100,000 was raised to kick-start Letchworth.

So remember, George, a garden city isn't just gardens or houses, it's much more. Go for it, but for goodness sake do it with vision!

Dr Sarah Rutherford is the author of 'Garden Cities' (Shire Publications, £6.99)

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Property search
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker