Acts of Livelihood: Bodies and Nature in International Garden City Movement Planning, 1898-1937

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Urban planning and reform scholars and policymakers continue to cite the “garden city” community model as a potential blueprint for planning environmentally sustainable, economically equitable, humane built environments. Articulated by the British social reformer Sir Ebenezer Howard and his 1898 book To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, the model represented a method for uniting the benefits of town and country through a singular, pre-planned, “healthy” community, balancing spaces of “countryside” and “nature” with affordable, well-built housing and plentiful cultural attractions associated with city life. The book catalyzed an early twentieth-century international movement for the promotion and construction of garden cities. Howard’s garden city remains a highly influential context in the history of town planning and urban public health reform, as well as more recent environmentally-friendly urban design movements.

To date, while historians have long examined the garden city as an agent of social and spatial reform, little analysis has been devoted to the role of prescribed embodiment and deemed “healthy” physical cultural forms and practices in the promotion and construction of garden cities as planned communities for “healthy living.”  Informed by recent scholarship in Physical Cultural Studies (PCS), embodied environmental history, cultural materialism, and theories of modern biopower, this dissertation studies the cultural history of international garden city movement planning in early twentieth century Britain and the United States.  Studying archival materials related to some of the prominent planners and resultant communities of the movement, I focus on the biopolitical dimensions of the planners’ contextual designs for “nature,” “health,” and “healthy” physical culture as they devised material garden city community layouts.  I argue that the intentional British and American garden cities created during the movement were planned as spatialized strategies for the regeneration of laboring bodies through organized, bourgeois physical cultural practices and access to nostalgic spaces of “naturally healthy environments and outdoor recreation.