Bellamy wins

Read in ‘Urban Utopias of the Twentieth Century’ (1977) of Robert Fishman:


So much fun reading the old stuff again. Last December I started writing a book on cities, what they are, why they exist and what they are heading for. So it’s a book on the past and future of urbanization. The publisher is Amsterdam University Press. It will be launched in May 2016, in the People’s Industry Palace. You will be amazed. So while writing my book, I took some old stuff on cities and planning from the shelves of my private library again. One of them was Robert Fishman’s ‘Urban Utopias’. I wanted to know more about Ebenezer Howard, the evangelist of the Garden City movement in the first decades of the twentieth century. Fishman describes how middle-class Londoner Howard discovered a true goal in his life: dissolving monstrous London by building hundreds of new towns in the countryside. It fascinated me because Howard’s thoughts became a true gospel in Dutch planner’s circles after the Second World War, his view leading in postwar spatial planning.

As a planner I wanted to know how the radical Howard imagined his dream would come true. They always told me he was a very practical man, his schemes and diagrams flexible, his approach open minded. Not Edward Bellamy’s centralized planning approach was his favorite, because as a London Radical he loathed state intervention. He was convinced his ‘peaceful path to real reform’ could only succeed if small communities were embedded in a decentralized society. People would then start cooperating spontaneously, everything based on independence and voluntary action. Howard was a true anarchist. Fishman: “The Radicals devoutly believed in Progress, and they held that mankind was evolving toward a higher stage of social organization – the cooperative commonwealth – in which brotherhood would become the basis of daily life.” In Dutch postwar planning I cannot mark off any of these values. It was centralized state planning pur sang that led to the dissolvement of the big cities. Is the result a higher stage of social organization? I don’t think so. I’m afraid Bellamy has won.


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