The Principles of Garden Cities

What makes a 21st Century Garden City?

How can you become a Garden City? Any one can build houses and factories, but making a community takes something else. One hundred years ago Ebenezer Howard founded the first Garden City in Letchworth. The 12 principles define how to build a Garden City for the 21st century using social policy.

A Garden City is a fair, just and harmonious community. It is not restricted to new cities or towns or those built following traditional garden city town planning, architectural or design principles. A Garden City is about community not merely about architecture and urban design.

It is about building a harmonious community balancing the best of town and country together to community where the measure of success is ultimately the happiness of the people who live in it. Below are listed twelve principles that we believe underline a Garden City. Some are methods and others are objectives.  In effect these principles represent doorways into the Garden City, you can enter using one of the many doorways, but contradict or deny any of the principles then they will also prove themselves to be exits.

We declare that any town or city or neighbourhood can be considered as a Garden City if it embraces, where possible, the  following principles:

1. Residents are Citizens of the Garden City. Residents consider themselves to be citizens of the Garden City. They are aware that the town truly belongs to them. There is a culture of rights, duties and responsibilities that comes through citizenship. The town is run for the common good, reflecting and representing the common will with a belief in equality and fraternity as the city is run for the benefit of the many not the few.

2. The Garden City owns itself  :  The Garden City is ultimately owned by itself not a series of landlords. This ownership and governance is  derived from the people who live in the city and who are its citizens acting for the common good.  If the Garden City is its own landlord then it is answerable to and controlled by its citizens ideally as a Community Land Trust through democratic structures that make it inclusive and accountable.

3. Energy efficient and carbon neutral. A Garden City has a harmonious relationship with nature and is energy efficient. A Garden City is a carbon neutral city and does not pollute. It’s planning, design and resources are deployed to achieve this goal. Citizens and the Government in the Garden City have a collective responsibility in their daily lives to design and implement such policies. This could be ensuring the provision clean, safe and efficient public transport, the ability to navigate the Garden City by walking or bicycle on one hand and the ability to reduce waste, recycle and reuse resources by Citizens on the other.

4. Provides access to land for living and working to all : The Garden City promotes urban agriculture, the ability for citizens to grow their own food even in an urban area. There is a right of free and fair access to the land for all residents to grow their own food whether it through common allotments, common land, farms, productive streets and parks or private gardens. Alongside this is the right for affordable housing and also the right of access to resources in urban areas to build or run their individual or collective businesses or workshops. It is a productive city that aims at its own self-sufficient providing opportunities for agricultural work, crafts, commerce and industry. Rents are provided to encourage self-sufficiency and regeneration, provided in partnership with tenants not just for tenants. The goal is for the City to be productive and sustainable in its own right not as a dormitory settlement.

5.  Fair Trade principles are practised: The Garden City is committed to the practices and ethics of fair trade declaring and believing;  and in practice implementing the credo that it’s prosperity is not built upon the suffering of others, whether inside its own city limits, inside its own country or internationally.

6. Prosperity is shared. The prosperity of the Garden City is shared in practice among all its citizens but not just among the rich, wealthy and establishment. Participatory budgeting through which citizens decide on the priorities for public and community investment is one of the key mechanisms in  practice. To secure the wealth and trigger jobs among the community it can create local or community currency  and set up community banks like the Swiss Wir .

7. No special privileges for anyone. All citizens are equal regardless of how long they have lived there or how many generations of their family have. A Garden City will provide support and treat with dignity those with mental and physical disabilities.

8. Fair Representation and direct democracy. A Garden City can be made up of many cities and towns, but each of these will be comprised of different neighbourhoods and communities, each with differing needs and aspirations. The prosperity of the Garden City is employed to help those in greatest need. Each community and neighbourhood should be empowered and encouraged to form its own free and open association, council or forum to represent and engage the views and needs of that local community. The Garden City will share its decision making. It will devolve some to representatives but by also by engaging directing and meaningfully with the citizens so all can have an informed say and collective decision making power on the priorities for the Garden City. One example could be participatory budgeting.

9. Participatory design and public spaces. Space and design of the city is in harmony with the landscape and nature. New developments and housing in the town have Garden City space and design characteristics and aim to promote the health and wellbeing of its citizens, current and future and are developed through participatory methods on fundamental issues not just cosmetic ones. Public spaces are widely available as an important concept as it provides the means for people to meet and share views and to integrate. These public spaces and facilities bring together young and old, rich and poor, those of different races, religions and backgrounds as a community that celebrates and rejoices in its diversity and exercises tolerance and freedom.

10. A City of Rights and the right to the City. In the Garden City there are universal rights for citizens such as the right to clean air, the right to nutritious food, the right to adequate housing, the right to fair wages and work. There are not only individual rights, but collective rights too. Such as the collective right to enjoy the city and its majesty as well as collective civic and political rights. In traditional terms as the City is held in common there is a collective right to these commons. The Right to the City is a superior Right as it is both individual and collective.

11. Knowledge is held in common, shared and enhanced. A Garden City is a mutual city that builds a culture of production, sharing and co-operation not just in terms of its prosperity and governance but also in terms of the knowledge it acquires and generates. It shares and co-operates for the good of the City while still operating competition to create innovation and development.

12. Wealth and harmony measured by happiness. The wealth and harmony of the Garden City is measured in the happiness its citizens. It is the only true measurement of a successful city. Their happiness is not based upon the suffering or expense of others.
These are the characteristics of a Garden City, not all can be present. But the guiding principles of a new Garden City will be to: Share, Enjoy and Prosper.

What turns the sharing of the Garden City’s prosperity from an act of paternalism or charity to one of empowerment and citizenship?
It is people not just having share in the City’s prosperity but a share – an active say – in how it is spent and what and where it is spent on. It means people having a chance to participate and speak for themselves and make informed decisions.
Importantly to share prosperity, enjoy its prosperity and to enjoy sharing.

The key tenets are :-
  • A productive city
  • Accountable and controlled and governed by the community  for community benefit
  • Sustainable design and management and as such will have a low carbon foot print

Philip Ross, Yves Cabannes
May 2012