Updated: Mar 31
Greenbelt was one of three Green Towns built by the Resettlement Administration in the second half of the 1930s as part of FDR's New Deal. The other two were Greendale, Wisconsin, and Greenhills, Ohio. A fourth, Greenbrook, was planned for New Jersey, near Bound Brook, but its construction was initially delayed by litigation, then halted altogether, and it was never built. It's particularly sad that it was never constructed because according to a promotional booklet put out by the Resettlement Administration, entitled Greenbelt Towns, Henry Wright would have been the lead town planner, along with Allan Kamstra. Wright had collaborated with well-known planner Clarence Stein on such projects as Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, New York and Radburn, New Jersey. The latter had a huge influence on the Green Towns project.
Both Stein and Wright championed the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and his Garden City movement at the turn of the last century. Howard, noting the overcrowded, dirty conditions of city living in the UK, envisioned small cities on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas which would be surrounded by green space with areas for residents to live, work, and play. Radburn, founded in 1929,was based on many Garden City principles and included superblocks, underpasses, pedestrian walkways, and thoughtfully designed housing - all features that would be incorporated into Greenbelt, as well. The lawsuit that stopped Greenbrook from being built was brought by a local property owner and by town officials whose argument was that the increased public services that would be required as a result of the new town would have too great an impact on surrounding communities. The lawsuit also claimed that the new town would not pay its share of taxes and that the entire Green Towns program was unconstitutional because it was an overreach of legislative power. Though Greenbrook was never built, there are plans, drawings and other materials at the Library of Congress (see below for a sampling). The housing appears to have more in common with Greenbelt's block housing than the brick units, and is modernist, or International style in appearance, with straight lines, symmetrical details, and in some renderings, flat roofs. There's a variety of different versions of homes. It appears that the planners and architects had perhaps not yet settled on just one or two styles. The overall plan, however, features many of the same elements as the other Green Towns, including pathways, courts, and an integration of green space.