INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND SUBURBAN UTOPIAS: THE DIVORCE OF CITIES AND FOOD PRODUCTION

The close relationship between urban populations and food production largely fell apart during the Victorian Industrial Revolution. At first, despite dra­matic population growth, poor transportation meant that the physical expansion of cities was limited. This changed from the mid-nineteenth century onwards with the building of the railways allowing people to live much further away from their work places. By the late nineteenth century, the sheer scale of the great industrial cities with their dense urban development and lack of green space separated millions of people from any immediate contact with food production.

The desperately unhealthy living conditions endured by urban factory workers and alienation from nature were causes of mounting concern. One important attempt to reintroduce open urban space was the development of the municipal park, adopted for example in the UK, in the second half of the nineteenth century (Nicholson-Lord, 1987) (see Chapter 14). The other was the spread of urban allotments during the same time.

Most large parks in European cities date from the nineteenth century. Their often picturesque land­scapes, modelled on the open countryside, forests or

feudal property, attracted the city dweller for leisure activities. Leisure was free, with outdoor pursuits like walking, sitting, reading, picnicking, ball games, ice skating, etc., all with a choice of minor commercial involvement in the form of small entrance fees or ice cream. The park’s significance as leisure space has remained unchanged since and is still associated with similar activities, though leisure activity now takes more diverse forms (see Part Five).

Smaller urban settlements often faced fewer spatial problems during industrialisation and, in conse­quence, did not develop inner-city urban parks of significant scale. In these towns and cities it was the urban periphery that provided open urban space for city dwellers, both in the form of open park landscape (often agricultural/farmland) adja­cent to the settlement and house gardens and allotments in the developing suburbia.

Allotments were originally established in the early eighteenth century to compensate the landless rural poor for the enclosure of common land by wealthy landowners (Crouch and Ward, 1988). Their function was to provide a nutritional and economic safety net against unemployment or to supplement meagre incomes. The need for urban allotments arose soon after this and became acute during the nineteenth century as the trickle of landless poor migrating to the great cities became a flood. Allotment provision at this point was largely private and ad hoc.

But by the late nineteenth century the growing power and responsibilities of local government were reflected in the first allotments legislation. Acts of 1887 and 1892 required local authorities for the first time to provide allotments for the labouring poor where need was shown. These Acts were consolidated and the requirement for municipal provision strengthened in the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act. This Act remains the principal piece of legislation governing allotments (Crouch and Ward, 1988). Comparable developments were occurring in other parts of Europe, for example, the introduction of Schrebergarten in Germany.

Urban food growing in general, and allotments in par­ticular, featured prominently in Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow first published in 1898. Howard’s ideas drew on an earlier ‘back to the land tradition’ embodied in examples such as Bournville model village built by enlightened industrialist George Cadbury for his workers near Birmingham in 1895 (Marsh, 1982).

Howard’s garden city envisaged the planned dis­persal of the population from the overcrowded slums of the great industrial cities of Britain to new towns. These were to be located beyond a green belt, separating them and their ‘parent’ city. Each was to have a population of approximately 30 000 and be grouped around a larger central city in poly­nuclear fashion – the whole creating a ‘social city.’

Food production within or around Howard’s garden cities was a key element. In each city, five-sixths of the area was devoted to food production. Residential space was to be divided into generous plots of 20 by 130 feet, which Howard envisaged would be sufficient to feed a family of at least five people. In addition, allotments ringed the settlement peripheries. Twentieth century garden city deriva­tives like Welwyn and Letchworth never quite devel­oped into the self-sufficient, food-producing entities originally conceived. Notwithstanding this, 33 new towns were built (Ward, 1993), with at least an ambition to integrate landscape and living space.

While Howard’s theories had far reaching effects on town planning across Europe, it is probably true to say that the town planning theories of Le Corbusier, expounded in ‘The City of Tomorrow

and its Planning’ (Le Corbusier, 1971) and first published in 1924, had the greatest international influence on the architecture and urban planning of the twentieth century.

Le Corbusier’s attitude to Howard’s theories are well summarised by Maurice Besset:

Le Corbusier’s debt to the theorists of the garden city is equally certain and no less ambiguous.

Of course, he spoke out against the danger of ‘de-urbanisation’ which the garden cities repre­sented, for they proposed a false solution to the city and could only lead to ‘a sterile isolation of the individual,’ whom they would maintain in ‘a slavery organised by capitalist society.’ As he fought against the ‘corridor-street’ and the slums it gives rise to, so he fought against the ‘great illusion’ of the individual home, taking up space and generating circulation. To the horizontal gar­den city he opposed as early as 1922 his large, regenerated apartment building, his vertical garden city. This apartment block, consisting in essence of superimposed villas, this immeuble – villa as he called it, reduced distances and facil­itated social contacts and integration of the different urban functions. But whether the dwellings were grouped vertically or horizon­tally, it was still a garden city and the same essential joys promised by Howard and his friends towards which sails, above the trees of the green belt, the great concrete ship of the apartment block which he called the Unite de Habitation, the housing unit.

(Besset, 1987)

Although not named as such, Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture play a central role in Le Corbusier’s urban thinking. In Chapter 13 of ‘The City of Tomorrow’, under the heading ‘Concerning Garden Cities’ he describes precisely how urban agriculture could be accommodated without reducing the overall density of suburbs. Analysing a typical suburban housing plot of 400 m2 he proposes allo­cating 150 m2 to a communal market garden. ‘There would be a farmer in charge of every 100 such plots and intensive cultivation would be employed. . . Orchards lie between the houses and the cultivated land'(Le Corbusier, 1971).

Later, Le Corbusier wrote about what would today be called Peri-Urban Agriculture. By 1945, he had defined ‘three human establishments’: The Farm Unit, The Linear Industrial City, and the Radio­Concentric Change-Over City. What we find inter­esting today, about these proposals, is the way they present a series of overlaid networks. Within this conception of the city, agricultural land provides a kind of underlying carpet across which linear cities between 50 and 200 kilometres long form strands in a network, the nodes of which become radio­concentric change-over cities. The clear boundaries between farm units and cities are symptomatic of a prevailing interest in zoning (Besset, 1987). If we review these proposals today, Le Corbusier’s Farm Unit would be considered peri-urban agriculture. The triangulated network of linear cities he sketched would result in food growing for cities within the limits currently set by the manages of London’s farmers’ markets (see Chapter 10).

Taking a different position to Le Corbusier’s, the North American architect Frank Lloyd Wright published during the middle of the twentieth century and towards the end of his life a series of essays, eventually brought together in his book, ‘The Living City! Wright’s vision of the living city could best be summarised as integrating agriculture into dispersed suburban settlements. The living city may be read as a tirade against what Wright saw as dehumanising aspects of ‘purism,’ the architecture emerging from Europe in response to the machine age. Much of the tone of the volume appears to despair at the con­sequences of conflict and a non-human-centred

economy: ‘. .. instead of practising democracy, we now defend only what we call our interests. So we go from war to war.’ (Lloyd Wright, 1970).

In common with Le Corbusier’s vision, Wright’s living city celebrates personal transport, although in a somewhat eccentric manner. But within Lloyd Wright’s proposition, we find a vision that resonates with current architectural thinking about the essence and generative power of the concept of landscape: ‘Architecture and acreage (agricultural land) will be seen together as landscape, as was the best in antique architecture, and will become more essential to each other.’ (Lloyd Wright, 1970).

This notion of ‘Architecture and acreage, seen together as landscape,’ is perhaps Wright’s great­est gift to contemporary architects and urbanists. As an idea, it frees us from distinctions between urban and suburban, and also helps to articulate a vision of a city driven by Ecological Intensification, where productive landscapes can stand equal to traditional development in the built environment. While architects have started to deal with land­scape and building, informing each other at an architectural scale, variously referred to as earth buildings, groundscrapers, landscrapers or sub­scrapers (Brayer and Simonot, 2003; Betsky, 2002; Richards, 2002) at the scale of a city, these issues are only beginning to be addressed.