The Edwardian ideals of community living and green spaces are back in vogue
They were conceived in 1898 as a new way of town planning, a reaction to inner-city crowding where people and pollution lived side by side.
By the middle of the 19th century the garden-city movement had taken off — England had no fewer than 30. The first two, and arguably the most famous, were created in 1903 and 1920 and bore the design credentials that would be seen in hundreds of replica cities around the world: rings of buildings around a central, circular park, housing separated from industry by swathes of green space and proportionate amounts of businesses and residential properties. Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City, in the Hertfordshire countryside, would be lauded in years to come as seminal settlements that best captured the spirit of the movement.
However, few people know that Scotland also played a part in establishing the concept. The country’s first garden city was set up at Rosyth on the northern banks of the Firth of Forth at the beginning of the 20th century. Hilton Garden City, now emerging to the west, is the latest manifestation and a reinvention of that Edwardian ideal.
Ebenezer Howard, who founded the movement and wrote To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform, promised the best of rural and urban areas. Garden cities built to Howard’s remit shared a number of traits. Greenery was at the core — properties were to have back and front gardens, with attractive trees and shrubs as natural dividers affording privacy between homes and shaping the layout of each district. There was to be a mix of affordable and aspirational homes, with an onus on community-land ownership, and the developer of each city was to take the lead when helping to support engagement between social groups.
Businesses, town halls, local amenities and other civic establishments were to be opened to offer employment and to help each city to thrive as a self-contained utopia.
The movement soon caught on. In the United States, garden cities were established in Wisconsin, Maryland and Ohio, while destinations as far away as New Zealand, India and South Africa also borrowed ideas from Howard’s way of thinking.
At the same time as these radical cities were being born around the world, the east coast of Scotland was making its mark. Work had begun on a royal naval dockyard on the River Forth at the start of the 20th century, and temporary lodgings, known as Tin Town, were built to accommodate 2,000 construction workers.
Recognising the need for a permanent place to house the workers and their families, and acknowledging the merits of the garden-city movement, it was agreed that the new town should align with Howard’s ideas. A body was established to oversee the planning and the Scottish National Housing Company began work on Rosyth Garden City in 1915.
Three years later 1,600 houses designed by the architectural practice Greig & Fairbairn had been built. Each had front and back gardens — a novelty at the time — and progressive architectural features that attracted visitors from Edinburgh who came to marvel at the greenery. Bricks were made from local clay, and work was undertaken at speed — no mean feat in wartime Britain when resources and manpower were limited.
Tenants in Rosyth Garden City, many of whom were from England, had access to shops, allotments and a church within walking distance. Self-sufficiency was key to Rosyth’s initial success, but a dwindling navy meant that, by 1926, most houses were vacated as the dockyard was closed. Instead, Rosyth was filled with occupants from all walks of life. By the end of the 20th century Rosyth had dropped the last part of its name and its trailblazing history faded from public view.
Now, a century after its roots were put down, Scotland’s only garden city is to bloom for the second time. In 2013 plans were laid to develop a new site west of Rosyth to continue the legacy. In partnership with Fife council, the Scottish government and the Scottish Futures Trust, the developer Kapital Residential began building Hilton Garden City, with the first of 400 tenants moving in last year. The first phase of housing, built on unused land, offered high-quality rental properties that gave occupants the chance to buy their homes after five to ten years.
Denice Punler, a co-director of Kapital Residential, explains the reasoning behind the ambitious project. “So often large developments are built, but we were conscious that this had to be more involved than that,” she says. “We had a responsibility to create a community which would offer enhanced natural environments and high-quality, affordable housing. Linking this concept to the original visions of the garden city created a working ethos for a new social standard for housing, which merges the private landlord and a social ethos.”
Distinct zones are to be created in Hilton Garden City, with a wide “spine” road with lime-tree avenues and other ornamental greenery in keeping with the movement’s characteristics. From this road, streets will be developed with mews-style housing and smaller trees will be planted.
Over the next two years a central “circus” is to be built that will borrow planning ideas from Edinburgh’s New Town, along with a main park and a smaller playing space. There will also be areas that support public art projects, and cycle routes to encourage healthy living.
Once established, the city’s residents will be given a helping hand to get to know one other. A moving-in and anniversary street party are to be held this summer. There will also be events such as garden fêtes and children’s plant-pot competitions, which — if a little optimistic, given the unpredictable weather — are at least an attempt to foster a community.
Phase two of the development will include 36 two, three and four-bedroom homes. A planning application will be lodged for 72 properties in phase three of the project. Prices range from £120,000 for a two-bedroom home to about £300,000 for a four-bedroom. By 2018 about 400 homes should be ready for occupation with a range of private landlords to create a diverse ownership.
Whether Hilton Garden City will influence a new clutch of Howardesque towns remains to be seen, but progress in year one is showing all the right signs. “There is a sense of friendship within the development, with neighbours getting to know one another — even before moving in they were swapping ideas and packing boxes,” says Punler. “It takes thought and effort from many to create a community as opposed to