To set the stage, its worth knowing the backround to this rather special place....
The rather intense gentleman on the cover of Time is Rexford Guy Tugwell, the father of the Greenbelt communities. Tugwell was an advisor to Franklin Roosevelt, part of the “Brains Trust” that originated the New Deal. After Roosevelt’s election Tugwell became head of the Resettlement Administration (RA).
The RA was intended to solve problems of rural unemployment and poverty, but came under criticism, and was eventually converted into the better known Farm Security Administration, famous for its photography project and migrant labor camps featured in “Grapes of Wrath”
The RA was a good example of the early New Deals interest in social and economic planning (the NRA was be another). The farm crisis part of the Depression was driving farmers off the land and into the urban slums or suburban shantytowns. The solution was to resettle destitute farmers either in subsistence farmsteads or in greenbelt communities near cities, or also back in rural areas in cooperative farming ventures, and convert worn out farms into conservation areas.
As a test, four Greenbelt towns where planned. Three were built. One was Greenhills, near Cincinnati. The other two are near Milwaulkee and Washington DC. Dayton was going to get three or four subsistence homestead projects, but that experiment never got off the ground.
The greenbelt towns were intended as an experiment in social engineering and agricultural economics (Tugwell was an economist) as much as town planning. The greenbelt was not envisioned as parkland, but as a belt of working farms that would sell their product to people in the Greenbelt town and in city wholesale markets. The idea of a “greenbelt” as an primarily an aesthetic feature came later, and was a contribution of the designers and planners brought into the program.
The town part of the Greenbelt communities would house farmers become workers, but also relocated slum dwellers.
Tugwell spoke on the slum clearance aspect of this with Roosevelt:
As there was no industry in these towns location near industrial districts, in Cincinnati’s case the Mill Creek Valley, was a key part in selecting the location.”FDR let me off city housing, thought he laughed at me for not wanting to do it. I talked to him about satellite cities as an alternative and (that) interested him greatly. My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up land cheaply, build a whole community, and entice people into it. Then go back into the cities and dear down slums and make parks of them. I could do this with a good heart and he now wants me to.”
Some graphics from a publication of the era; the greenbelt community as an improved version of suburbia.
Map of Greenhills showing it bisected by a major highway north, Winton Road, with housing arranged off a loop road, and a town center in the center of the community, with generous open space flowing through the town.
And another similar illustration with features labeled
Greenhills today. The agricultural greenbelt has disappeared (it was quite extensive, running as far north to the county line and as far west to US 127) but a greenbelt as parkland (in this case a forest preserve) was retained, thus the primary design intention of the town remains intact.
A view of the community center as proposed and today, comprised of schools, recreation facilities, a community building, shopping center, and a farmers market, with a large ‘village green” as centerpiece.
(one of the early drafts had the town center on the west side of Winton Road)
A close up of the heart of Greenhills showing that the place pretty much retains its original form, in a broad sense
The housing illustrated in the old booklet on the town, and a possibly the house type illustrated in the thumbnail. There are 30 different house plans in the original part of Greenhills. Most of the housing appears to be some form of multifamily, doubles, rows, apartments. Of the three Greenbelt towns, Greendale, near Milwaukee, has substantial single family homes in the original design (by Elbert Peets, see his On The Art of Designing Cities for a great discussion of Greendale )
Another plan of the town, labeled.
The town plan was by an associate of John Nolen, who had assisted Nolen with Mariemont, another model suburb in Cincinnati, built in the 1920s.
Influences here, though, are supposedly the Radburn plan, but even more the TVA town of Norris, Tennessee, in the generous open space “flowing” through the town and long looping roads and cul-de-sacs extending into the landscape, rather than the more compact blocks of Radburn. Yet the neighborhood concept was there, as the streets, cul-de-sacs and rowhose
Yet, the focus on a community center/”village green” as centerpiece means this type of plan could be combined with TOD concepts, where one can have both the garden city and a denser “community center” area, knitted together by pathways for pedestrians and bikes.
These roads and cul-de-sacs form little neighborhood units, with more intimate open spaces sometimes found off the streets or midblock. There is also an extensive pathway system throughout the complex. An interesting feature is the mixing of larger and smaller multifamily units in the neighborhoods and the use of similar types of housing and the street hierarchy to create sub-neighborhoods..things get more private and intimate the deeper you go into the community.
A higher density, more modernist portion of the complex, with staggered row house zielenbau arranged in a diamond or lozenge pattern.
Then more traditional “suburban” parts, yet always with open space nearby, pathway, and mixes of housing types.
Greenhills was rental, not owner occupied. After the war it was sold to the occupants….
Greenhills in the early 1950s, with some of the greenbelt subdivided as a conventional subdivision
Greenhills in the 1960s to today. The farming greenbelt was subdivided as conventional subdivisions, though a portion of the open space surrounding the original town was retained as a forest preserve
Passing through the forest preserve greenbelt on Winton Road.
One of the better features of this town, in contrast to conventional suburbia, is that the highway is surrounded by wide open space and paths, visually buffering the residential areas from the highways. There is no gross commercial strip center development strung out through town, which only formally engages with Winton in the vicinity of the town center.
Taking a closer look at the town center area and surrounding housing.
1- village green
2- shopping center and farmers market
3- community center & school
The village green. This is sort of neat idea. Modernist town planning is very European, but the planners here borrowed an American typological form to make the place more comprehensible.
…and, as in village greens and town squares throughout the US, there are monuments and memorials.
The community center, done up in a stripped deco-classical style.
The shopping center, perhaps (from the mid 1930s) one of the oldest of its type in Cincinnati? It has been heavily modified.
The rear of the shopping center is at a lower level, which is where the farmers market used to be located….
Connected to the upper level via stairs at various locations
The shopping center is L-shaped, with the foot of the L facing the village green
And the sidewalk along the shops extends out into the green space to the housing areas beyond.
…passing by this neat pool house. The pool and pool house was penciled into the budget by the program director as he felt that since Greenbelt MD had a lake, Greendale WI was near Lake Michigan, Greenhills needed some water recreation too….
Very Depression Modern, bearing an affinity for Aquatic Park in San Francisco, from the same era
Following the path system …..
In the pix above…the path coming in from the left leads into a residential area
Continuing down the path, another fork
…but we continue forward, and start to encounter housing units, staggered zeilenbau, in a very basic modernist style, but some nice touches like the corner windows and the balconies over the entrances.
The path meets up with a street and becomes a sidewalk, but another shoots off across some lawn to another residential area
Along the loop road, housing block set in the woods….
Backtracking to that fork in the sidewalk we saw a few pix unthread.
This path loops around the central open space to the rear of the community center….
….which has fingers of open space extending between housing units.
Staggered zeilenbau arranged in a diamond or lozenge fashion around a parking area and open space.
More housing opening off the central open space, and paths leading back to the community building.
Crossing Winton Road, heading west, we look at one neighborhood similar to the one we just saw, and two less “project” feeling places.
This neighborhood also uses that diamond/lozenge site planning, but is flanked by open space belts off Winton Road and to the south…..modernist housing but some modified with gable roofs. I like the way they articulate the entrances in these units, and those little balconies. These long row buildings are not so monotonous as there are attempts to vary the massing and by the use of step backs and zigzags.
And always lots of open space and sidewalks
Heading into a more “suburban” feeling area, which is interesting as one can see the open space concept and varied housing types at work in a more conventional context…
Row housing on a conventional suburban street (note the later faux mansard roof modernization down the block a bit). Note the shared garages. A lot of that in this part of Greenhills.
There are a lot of duplexes in this part of Greenhills. This is a sort of modernist version, three stories or so.
Another row. Note the slate roof. In public housing (!). All this was built by the WPA as make-work, which cost more. They did end up skimping on materials in the end, to make budget.
Heading down the street to one of the cul-de-sacs facing the greenbelt.
Cul de sac, in this case, is a mix of styles, but mostly this cape cod duplex
Just beautiful. It doesn’t get much better than this. I had a talk with the lady who lived here who was working on this garden. She told me it was Eleanor Roosevelt’s idea to use slate and tile on the roofs (urban legend of Greenhills? A nice story nonetheless). She said this was great in the winter, too, with that forest in the background.
More of these broken up rows with a mix of styles in the same block of attached houses.
And a little apartment block or something stuck in the middle of it all, access via a privet-lined sidewalk
An end unit on one of the blocks, showing how the garages are shared between units. This end unit is sort of interesting in that long vertical window, probably a landing window, or into a stairwell. Nice touch.
As always, a pathway leading off somewhere. Even in this more conventional area (houses facing streets) the planners work in this pedestrian circulation system.
Looking down another cul-de-sac street
Some nifty modernist rows, again made more interesting via zig zagging and softened by the detailed, fine-grain landscaping.
Yet another pathway…..this one leads into one of the big open spaces….
…looking back at the housing area….
….and out into the open space. This would have connected to a little creek valley, but was “plugged” by postwar development so that doesn’t work anymore. A peek at some of that a bit later….
…and the path continues to the shopping center and village green, paralleling Winton Road
Yet another housing area…
It sort of looks like a suburban street, but….
…” its suburbia, Jim, but not as we know it”
Sort of an alternative reality of suburbia, without the monoculture aspects….the mix of house types here one would never see on the same street. Greenhills is “zoned”, but not the way, say, a conventional postwar suburb is…its zoned yet still integrated.
Yet, make no mistake, some of the architecture is pretty banal ..
Another one of those “tall” duplexes..this one built into a hill….
Climbing the hill…note those little stair or landing windows worked into the step backed facades in some case, on the sides, not in front. Simple buildings but attention to detail
..on top of this hill is this little “event”, a small green…
…and across the street a sidewalk into a midblock green space, which was being used as a playground by the neighborhood kids when I was there. Greenhills has little surprises tucked in everywhere.
A very brief look as some of the single family homes built on the north side of the old part of Greenhills
This is probably the best postwar building set in Greenhills. It unfortunately plugs one of the large open space corridors (along with the banal split levels and ranches across the street, not shown here), but it is a great little set, I feel in the progressive spirit of the New Deal housing, though stylistically not the same.
Miesian courtyard housing….
…..grouped around this exquisite little pedestrian court:
Another view, showing how the buildings blend in with the landscaping and the parking is screened from the street by hedges.
A portion of the older part of Greenhills has been demolished as is being replaced by this type of housing.
…as much as I like these as exemplars of “New Urbanism” , and especially as infill (I can see that four square in any number of old neighborhoods in Dayton that need reconstruction), I am ambivalent about these in a place like Greenhills. Somehow out of character?
Driving through the greenbelt forest again…
westward to the village of Burlington….
One encounters this place. Folk art
Some sort of racing thing going on…..
picnic tables, RV in the background, red flasher lights on the poles holding up the checkered flags, oversized ventilator, outdoor pop machines..hmmm..….
..in back, a lazy collection of chairs and tables arranged for a small outdoor movie theatre (that white painted board as movie screen)
If you want to read more about Greenhills, you can read the .pdf of a MA theses
The Planning Theories of Greenhills by Frederick Lutt.
This and a PhD these (not available online) are the best sources for the details on the planning of Greenhills.