Garden Streets


One of the most influential planning ideas to emerge from the late 19th century was that of the Garden City. Ebenezer Howard, in his book Garden Cities of To-Morrow proposed constructing these new towns in the outer orbit of metropolitan London. The aim was to fuse the best of the city and the country.  Several were realized, including Letchworth (pictures 1 and 2) and  Welwyn Garden City, (pictures) which I had the opportunity to visit in 2006/07. The idea became a foundation for many subsequent new town plans in the UK and influence places in the US like Columbia, Maryland. It today can be seen in a way as a ante-cedent to the New Urbanist movement. Places like Kentlands in Maryland are not complete Garden Cities, but certainly share many elements.

Howard’s Three Magnets

The idea was carried forward into Garden Suburbs, smaller units that were not as economically independent. Hampstead Garden Suburb (picture) is the original example of this development. It is lovely, and very expensive.

The phrase Garden Streets occurred to me at some point. What would this mean? In one sense, we can think of complete streets, that function for all users, not just motor vehicles. These typically have various lanes, for pedestrians, for trees, for drainage, for bicycles, for buses, for cars.  Alternatively it might be a shared street, one where the modes were not channelized, but floated freely amongst each other. But neither of those in themselves really get at the core idea.

The phrase also brings out the idea of formal or naturalistic landscaping, as one envisions from a Boulevard in a neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  In London, the term apparently refers to streets where any unpaved (and some paved) areas are intensively landscaped by neighbors, guerrilla gardeners, as shown in the attached YouTube video.


I think this meaning is closer, but too literal.

Instead, if we bring out the original sense of Garden Cities, we want to fuse the best aspects of town and country. The best country roads, with their naturalistic landscaping are places we want to drive, ride, or walk. The best city streets  with their more intensive use, still create interest if we see places we enjoy walking past because they look, sound, and smell interesting. A Garden Street fuses the best of both creating a street that is desirable to be on, because there is something interesting to see, either nature or an intense and interesting urban environment.

So the Garden Street doesn’t adjoin non-descript blacktop for storing cars, or chain linked fences, or anything that lacks beauty. Instead it aspires to the aphorism that the Journey is the Reward. The Garden Street is not traversed simply to get from here to there, but because it is a preferred place to be, the Garden Street invites you and encourages you to travel on it. It successfully competes with the screen in front of you as place to be.

Some examples are below. Three are shopping streets, two are residential. They are not perfect illustrations (Nara could be lusher), but they are places one wants to be walking in, streets one wants be on, rather than through.