The garden city movement: from Ebenezer to Ebbsfleet

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George Osborne’s plan for 15,000 homes in Kent is rooted in the vision of a radical socialist, but can the model work today?

The garden city movement: from Ebenezer to Ebbsfleet

Tory policies often come from unlikely places, but when George Osborne unveiled his grand plan for a “proper garden city” at Ebbsfleet in Kent, did he realise he was backing a socialist movement for collective land reform?

“Garden city” may have become a byword for the cosy middle England ideal of privet hedges and twitching net curtains, but it began as a radical campaign for co-operative development, set out by parliamentary stenographer Ebenezer Howard in the 1890s. In reaction to the overcrowding and industrial pollution of growing Victorian cities, Howard launched his vision for a series of ideal towns, contained by rolling green belts, that would separate housing from industry and combine the best of the city and the countryside.

“Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together,” he wrote in Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, in 1898. “Town and Country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization.”