Sir Ebenezer Howard (29 January 1850 – 1 May 1928), the English founder of the garden city movement, is known for his publication To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), the description of a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together with nature. The publication resulted in the founding of the garden city movement, and the building of the First Garden City, Letchworth Garden City, commenced in 1903. The second true Garden City was Welwyn Garden City (1920) and the movement influenced the development of several model suburbs in other countries, such as Forest Hills Gardens designed by F. L. Olmsted Jr. in 1909, Radburn NJ (1923) and the Suburban Resettlement Program towns of the 1930s (Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; Greenbrooke, New Jersey and Greendale, Wisconsin).
Howard aimed to reduce the alienation of humans and society from nature, and hence advocated garden cities and Georgism. Howard is believed by many to be one of the great guides to the town planning movement, with many of his garden city principles being used in modern town planning.
Howard was born in Fore Street, City of London, the son of Ebenezer Howard (1818–1900), a baker, and Ann (née Tow, born 1818). He was sent to schools in Suffolk and Hertfordshire. Howard left school at 15 and began working as a stenographer in London. Howard subsequently had several clerical jobs, including one with Dr Parker of the City Temple.
In 1871, at the age of 21, influenced partly by a farming uncle, Howard emigrated with two friends to America. He went to Nebraska, and after his farming efforts failed, discovered he did not wish to be a farmer. He then relocated to Chicago and worked as a reporter for the courts and newspapers. In the US he became acquainted with, and admired, poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Howard began to ponder ways to improve the quality of life.
By 1876 he was back in England, where he found a job with Hansard company, which produces the official verbatim record of Parliament, and he spent the rest of his life in this occupation. Howard's time in parliament exposed him to ideas about social reform, and helped inspire his ideas for the Garden City.
In August 1879 he married Eliza Ann Bills. Howard has been described as a humble and practical inventor who used his spare time to create outlines of new cities. It was the social milieu of the 1800s which led Howard to consider the social problems of the time and try to find alternatives. Howard mingled with free thinkers, anarchists and socialists, whose revolutionary and reforming ideas greatly influenced him.
Following the death of his wife Eliza Ann Bills (1853–1904) in 1907 he married Edith Annie Hayward (1864–1941), who ended her days as Edith, Lady Howard, and with whom he is buried in Letchworth Cemetery.
Howard read widely, including Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel, Looking Backward, and Henry George's economic treatise, Progress and Poverty, and thought much about social issues. He disliked the way modern cities were being developed and thought people should live in places that should combine the best aspects of both cities and the countryside.
The only publication he wrote in his life was titled To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, which was significantly revised in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow. Garden Cities of To-morrow was based on ideas of social and urban reform. Garden Cities were to avoid the downfalls of industrial cities of the time such as urban poverty, overcrowding, low wages, dirty alleys with no drainage, poorly ventilated houses, toxic substances, dust, carbon gases, infectious disease and lack of interaction with nature. This book offered a vision of towns free of slums and enjoying the benefits of both town (such as opportunity, amusement and good wages) and country (such as beauty, fresh air and low rents). He illustrated the idea with his famous Three Magnets diagram (pictured), which addressed the question 'Where will the people go?', the choices being 'Town', 'Country' or 'Town-Country'. Garden Cities of Tomorrow proposed that society be reorganised with networks of garden cities that would break the strong hold of capitalism and lead to cooperative socialism.
It proposed the creation of new suburban towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land. These Garden cities were used as the model for many suburbs. Howard believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature.Howard believed that a new civilisation could be found by marrying the town and the country. The towns would be largely independent, managed by the citizens who had an economic interest in them, and financed by ground rents on the Georgist model. The land on which they were to be built was to be owned by a group of trustees and leased to the citizens.
While many believe the diagrams and designs in Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow to be a physical plan for the perfect garden city, Howard notes these to be merely suggestive as each city should be planned to be organised as per the needs of the people and their environment. Howard never intended for garden cities to be circular like his diagrams.
In 1899 he founded the Garden Cities Association, known now as the Town and Country Planning Association.
By his association with Henry Harvey Vivian and the co-partnership housing movement his ideas attracted enough attention and funding to begin Letchworth Garden City, a suburban garden city 37 miles north of London. A second garden city, Welwyn Garden City, was started after World War I.
His acquaintance with German architects Hermann Muthesius and Bruno Taut resulted in the application of humane design principles in many large housing projects built in the Weimar Republic. Hermann Muthesius also played an important role in the creation of Germany's first garden city of Hellerau in 1909, the only German garden city where Howard's ideas were thoroughly adopted.
The creation of Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City were influential for the development of "New Towns" after World War II by the British government. This produced more than 30 communities, the first being Stevenage, Hertfordshire (about halfway between Letchworth and Welwyn), and the last (and largest) being Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Howard's ideas also influenced other planners such as Frederick Law Olmsted II and Clarence Perry. Walt Disney used elements of Howard's concepts in his original design for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).
In 1913 Howard founded the 'Garden Cities and Town Planning Association' – presently the International Federation for Housing and Planning. Its goal was to promote the concept of planned housing and to improve the general standard of the profession by the international exchange of knowledge and experience.
Howard was an enthusiastic speaker of Esperanto, often using the language for his speeches.