Sir Frederic Osborn and the Global Urban Planning Movement

Rachel Parsons

Sir Frederic James Osborn (1885-1978) was a key member of the Garden City movement. The Garden City Movement, led by Ebenezer Howard, proposed a method of urban planning which created communities which combined the social life and employment opportunities of the big towns with the nature and open spaces of the country. In 1912, Sir Frederic became the secretary of the Howard Cottage Society in Letchworth Garden City, before later joining the Welwyn Garden City Ltd Company in 1919. In 1936, Sir Frederic joined the Town and Country and Planning Association.

Following the Second World War (1939-1945), there was a renewed need and interest in many of the principles of the Garden City Movement. The New Towns Movement emerged, which shared many of the aims of the Garden City Movement relating to the need for new housing and urban decongestion. Sir Frederic Osborn, as a key member of the Town and Country Planning Association, was a dedicated proponent of this movement.

New Towns Across the World

In the 1960s, Sir Frederic began writing ‘New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis’ (1963, 1968). This was a comprehensive study of the New Towns movement within Britain, and the impact of this movement on the wider world. From 1962, Sir Frederic began writing to nations across the world to investigate how the principles of the Garden City and New Towns Movement had influenced urban planning. Sir Frederic believed that, although not all of these international new towns matched the guidelines of Garden Cities or New Towns, the challenges they faced and their use of planning made them of ‘interest and promise’.

Osborn had several key questions on any planned settlements: the size; the date of foundation; the intended ultimate population; the present population; whether there was a basis of local industry or employment; the nearest city; and whether there was a ‘green belt’ reservation. Additionally, Osborn was curious about any concerns for the long-term aims of urban planning.

The correspondence of Sir Frederic reached out across the world. Letters were sent to and received from countries such as Argentina, Austria, Ghana and the USSR. While some countries had limited information on this, others, such as India and Pakistan, had plenty of information on new settlements and urban planning to share with Osborn. This information is now held in our archives at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS).

Urban Planning in India and Pakistan

Sir Frederic wrote to the High Commission of India in October 1962, requesting information on New Towns in India. Letters were also sent to C.S. Chandrasekhara, the Secretary General of the Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Housing. Mr. Chandrasekhara then sent Sir Frederic’s questions to all Town Planning Departments.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Chief Town and Village Planner noted how the towns of both Ghaziabad and Rudrapur had Green Belts, local industry, and plans for a desired town size.  Another response included a detailed report into new towns in India, and explained how industrialisation, the need to rehabilitate displaced persons, and the need for new administrative capitals, had shaped the growth of new towns in India following the Second World War.

During Sir Frederic’s correspondence with urban planners in Pakistan, S. Abdul Aziez, the Director of Town Planning, sent Osborn a report into the Development of Greater Karachi. Aziez noted that there were many methods of developing old towns and planning new communities – the struggle was in choosing which method was best for each particular area. Plans for Karachi took into account current land and population sizes, as well as their desired growth. The planning and development schemes in Karachi numbered 60, and included town expansion schemes, plans for satellite towns, industrial areas and residential areas.

The information from Sir Frederic’s correspondence with India and Pakistan then made its way into shaping the second edition of ‘The New Towns’.  In ‘The New Towns’, Sir Frederic described how, in India and Pakistan, while there were some difficulties in merging older cities with new towns, the governments of both nations believed in the need for strong urban planning, legislative powers, and administrative systems.

This shows the universal challenges of urban planning. The post-War world was faced with the challenge of balancing employment opportunities and housing between cities, towns and the countryside, whilst also providing people with access to nature. This, wrote Sir Frederic, was a ‘common problem […] which no country can claim to have solved’.

The history of Welwyn Garden City is part of a wider, international, history of urban planning.

 

Sources:
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Services DE/FJO/C14 FJO Correspondence with India and Pakistan
https://archives.hertfordshire.gov.uk/collections/getrecord/GB46_CDEFJO?doing_wp_cron=1626182722.8152379989624023437500
https://www.wgc100.org/about/garden-city-movement/
The New Towns: The Answer to the Megalopolis (Leonard Hill, 1963) [1969]

This page was added on 05/08/2021.

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