Garden City Principles

What are Garden City Principles?

At a time when the term ‘Garden City Principles’ is in widespread use, but without an agreed definition, Letchworth Garden City Society has set out the principles on which Ebenezer Howard founded Letchworth Garden City and we include our thoughts on how these principles can be updated to build new garden cities today.

Howard’s theories on how garden cities could be developed were set out in great detail in his book To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform, 1898, which was re-issued in 1902 as Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Once the building of Letchworth Garden City was under way, Howard’s views on the principles of garden cities were amended by the practicalities he had encountered.

In the Homeland Handbook on Letchworth and Hitchin in 1913 Howard wrote:

‘A Garden City is:-

A city of which the freehold belongs to the community; the rents paid for the land being a fund out of which rates are chiefly paid.

A city planned with a view to its being a healthy, beautiful and pleasant place in which to work, to play, and rest and to bring up families.

A city with a belt of open fields around it, so as to secure for all time the combined advantages of town and country life.

The houses in such a city must have good gardens, be not built too closely together, nor must there be overcrowding in the houses themselves.

The city should have a great variety of industries, carried on by many different organisations; but the more completely the spirit of justice and fraternity prevails, the more fully will the title of Garden City be merited.

Its population will be friendly and tolerant, expressing their hatred of all forms of injustice, but this chiefly by their love of every form of right-doing.’

In 1919, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, protesting against an London County Council Housing Scheme in Tottenham being called a garden city, Howard wrote:

‘I was the first to use the term in my book Tomorrow, published in 1898 and I applied it to new towns to be carefully planned right away in the open country with a view to attracting industries from the overcrowded cities, and of providing homes for the people near to the scene of their daily work – each town to be surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land, so that its inhabitants should enjoy for all time the combined advantages of town and country life.’

The future integrity of Letchworth Garden City depends on the spirit of these principles informing decisions taken by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.

Updated Garden City Principles – and how they might be implemented to provide the housing this country needs

  1. Principle

A new town, a planned community, built in the countryside, designed to combine the best of town and country life with a balance of affordable rented housing and housing for sale.


Use of government/publicly owned land (e.g. Ministry of Defence sites, old hospital sites) at a nominal cost or other sites bought on a long term government loan. Planning, commissioning and funding of layout, infrastructure, housing, shops, industry and cultural buildings by a Garden City Development Corporation set up by govern­ment, local authorities, charitable trusts etc. Loans to be repaid as land values and leasehold rents rise.

  1. Principle

The town development to be based upon attracting industry and commerce to the town so as to allow residents to work near home and to provide for their needs.


Government and European Union grants to encourage industry to locate in particular areas of the country could be used to attract industry. Commuting will still be important and good rail/road links to major employment centres are critical in attracting residents and industry.

  1. Principle

The town to be of a fixed maximum size with a permanent agricultural/green belt surrounding it to allow access to the countryside, for agricultural use, to prevent sprawl and to preserve the separate identity of the town.


Research to be carried out to determine whether Ebenezer Howard’s 30,000 maximum population is still the right size for a sense of community and for an economically successful town. The use of some of the agricultural land for market gardening with produce sold in the town would be a sustainability benefit. Public rights of way to be provided through the agricultural belt.


The spatial planning of the town and its architectural character to be of the highest quality and to reflect current good design and innovation. This needs a progressive master plan that contains well planned, intelligently designed neighbourhoods, integrated housing, industry, employment and education, together with facilities for shopping, leisure, health and welfare.


The use of urban design and architectural competitions to attract the best talent and as judged by national bodies and local interest. A scheme of management should control changes to the appearance of the buildings and to building densities.

  1. Principle

The increase in development value of the land to be retained for the benefit of the community and the freehold interest to be administered in the interest of the community, not the few.


The grant of the land at a nominal cost or long term loan to the Development Corporation will allow borrowing for infrastructure, planning and layout and the cost of the first buildings. The use of leasehold tenure for commercial property will provide income for the future benefit of residents. A management body to be set up after the development corporation has done its job, and this body to have paid employees answerable to a board of locally elected independent people. Cost of housing for sale to be at current market value and affordable rented housing not to be subject to Right to Buy.

  1. Principle

The encouragement of community spirit through cultural, social and sporting recreation.


The setting up of social structures to help foster community spirit and the provision of community cultural, social and sporting facilities.