Pondering Garden Cities – Ep 3

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(Photo Credit: Photo of Letchworth Garden City “Agricultural Belt”.  Photo taken by Sam Clevenger.)

 

This episode deviates slightly from previous Somatic episodes in that it combines a personal journey of contemplation with an exploration of an interesting historical topic to create almost an artistic and audial rendering of a somatic experience.  In this episode, I talk about my PhD research on the history of the international garden city movement, specifically two prominent planned communities that emerged as a result of the movement: Letchworth Garden City in the United Kingdom, and Greenbelt, Maryland in the United States.  Playing recorded soundscapes from my visit to these communities, I reflect on my experience visiting and staying in these communities, talk about the history, and ponder the significance of such planned communities in terms of how they help us rethink the meaning of our bodies in relation to our built environments.  As a result, the episode involves a mixture of approaches in that I both talk about the history of garden city ideals, and ponder my own somatic experience in the communities.  It’s kind of like a personal journey and soundscape that I’m hoping is in some way informative and interesting to you, the listener.


 

 

 

Why make an episode about garden cities and experiencing them?  How we make our communities healthier and happier places to live remains one of the most important questions facing public health and urban planning scholars and researchers.  Garden cities remain one of the most vibrant instances of people trying to turn their ideals on how to live a healthy, happy life into reality through town planning.  In the case of garden cities, the communities were to be centrally-planned, designed so as to be walkable and provide a balance of city and country life through the incorporation of things like plentiful park and playground space, houses arranged in cul-de-sacs with ample frontage and common green space, and a belt of open, undeveloped land surrounding each community.  The garden city planners envisioned such communities as the ideal way of life for the early twentieth-century citizen, and create Letchworth and Greenbelt with these ideas in mind.

When you listen to the episode, you’ll notice that a lot of the time I speak vaguely of the history of garden cities, and my questions as the significance of the history remains open ended, almost ambiguous.  This was intentional: I wanted the episode to function as if it were a “furniture music” style of podcast.  By furniture music, I refer to French composer Erik Satie’s ideas on composed music that could be played in the background and be forgotten, but could envelope one’s audial surroundings without requiring constant focus.  I wanted this podcast episode to feel like that too: to be experiential in that the listener could be brought into my own experience of these garden cities and my research, and discover that the process of learning and experience quite often feels irrevocably incomplete and yet soul-searching.  I wanted to try and introduce the listeners to the feelings associated with being in these communities, and perhaps open up questions that don’t have an easy, and that can only be answered through one’s own somatic experience.

 

If you want learn more about garden cities, here are some useful links that can provide more information:

Wikipedia articles on Letchworth, UK and Greenbelt, Maryland, USA

The International Garden Cities Exhibition in Letchworth, UK

The official website of the Town and Country Planning Association, originally the Garden City Association

The Greenbelt, Maryland Museum

A great book on the history of the Garden City movement – Stanley Buder’s Visionaries and Planners: The Garden City Movement and the Modern Community

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