Henry Wright, world renowned landscape architect and urban planning pioneer, implemented aspects of Ebenezer Howard’s “garden city” into his communities. All great planners have some characteristic which sets them apart and gives them an edge – the ability to conceptualize cities, towns, urban planning, in a way that others cannot. In Wright’s case, this was his experience being raised as a Quaker in Kansas. The communities and neighborhoods which Henry Wright helped develop all contain elements that reflect the core principles of the Quaker religion. I don’t think that Wright would have been as successful of a planner as he became if he did not draw the parallels between community and religion, the Quaker religion, person, and place.
The Quaker religion is based on five basic principles: integrity, equality, community, simplicity, and peace. Wright was taught to incorporate these five principles into his everyday life as a young child. As a professional, these five principles bled through his work. The garden city through Ebenezer Howard’s eyes utilized many of these principles as well. The garden city was originally designed as a small, self-reliant city, constructed in a circular shape, surrounded by a greenbelt. Wright worked to implement the ideas of Howard, consistent with the principles of his religion to plan cities, communities and neighborhoods which were organically harmonious.
Henry Wright helped design many subdivisions and cities throughout his career, and through those communities, Wright’s vision of the way a city should be structured as well as the purpose of a city presents itself. Radburn, arguably one of Wright’s most popular projects in his career, is a prime example of Wright’s perspective on the city. Radburn was designed to provide necessary paths for automobiles and pedestrians both, without the two competing with one another. With a complete separation of automobile and pedestrian, the two were provided the opportunity to coexist.
Sunnyside Gardens, along with Chatham Village, Brentmoor and Buckingham are other examples of how Wright, with his Quaker upbringing was drawn to the garden city movement and has implemented those characteristics into his work. All of these communities and neighborhoods included landscaped common areas, units facing away from traffic, separation of automobile and pedestrian, low density, and the “superblock”, elements that expand on those basic five principles mentioned above. Wright has designed the ideal neighborhood for residents to experience and achieve community, peace, integrity, simplicity and equality independent of the metropolis.
The principles of Quakerism and characteristics of the Garden City Movement that Henry Wright incorporated into his neighborhood planning are still being utilized today, only in the form of land use policy, design guidelines, neighborhood plans, and zoning codes. Neighborhood parks and pocket parks are seen in almost every subdivision. Policies are in place to promote detached sidewalks located further away from the road and vehicular traffic. Zoning Codes require and limit certain densities in certain areas. Land Use Policy often requires a minimum amount of green space for developments, and ordinances are in place to require entrances facing away from the street when certain conditions are met.
Many criticize Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City movement because it is seen as the beginning of the end – suburban sprawl. What people often fail to recognize is the fact that this movement was about so much more than just removing people from the cities. Henry Wright understood the deep benefits of creating communities with the advanced characteristics of the garden city. Howard’s ideas resonated with Wright’s morals and perspective. It made sense. Wright took the best parts of the Garden City and began to implement them into communities. He shared what he saw as the benefits of the Garden City movement while at the same time providing Quaker principles at the core of each community he helped create.