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Behold the Brøndby Garden City in Denmark, an experiment that has been around since 1964, but worth discussing in these day of hysterical Green-O-mania, the social response to climate change activism aggravated by worsening resource and capital scarcity, plus pandemic disease, political instability, and population overshoot — in short, a good old long emergency. I bring it up this month because it is just the sort of enviro hoo-hah based on good intentions (gone awry) that we’d better avoid in the time ahead.

The idea behind this is clearly to create a superior human habitat, a place where fresh air, daylight, and nature will enhance daily life. The problem is that Brøndby Garden City delivers this in the form of a diagram, and living in a diagram is nothing like living in a place that has developed organically and emergently over time, in response to historical changes of all kinds — social, technological, political, geophysical, and so on.

The fad for garden cities really got cracking in late 19th century England, precisely because the burgeoning cities of London, Manchester, Liverpool, et cetera, had achieved a ghastly quality of industrial over-growth with all the obnoxious side effects of hyper-congestion, smoke, odors, noise, disease, and crime, and the prospect was for even greater industrial expansion in the developed nations, which now had to be accommodated super-rationally so as not to repeat the awful evolution of the old cities. Hence, a species of intellectuals came along specializing in “land-use” to figure out how to optimize the assignment of space for homes, manufacturing, farming, and civic leisure, turning their theories into diagrams. For instance, the leading light of the movement, one Ebenezer Howard, and his attempt to depict such a scheme:

Notice the same circular motif as in Denmark’s Brøndby — perhaps expressing something hard-wired in the human brain that vibrates to the cycles, spheres, orbits, and circles of the cosmos. Anyway, the point is that a diagram is an abstraction and people cannot live in abstractions, and that is why the garden city movement ended up more a less a dud.

Getting back to Brøndby, notice how it actually turned out functionally: a car-dependent, single-use set of cul-de-sac subdivisions, not unlike the more informal blob-like cul-de-sac subdivisions of dear old suburban America. Note, too, that the leftover land around the circular subdivisions has no apparent civic purpose. They are not parks, gardens, ballfields, parade grounds or… anything… just “open space” a meaningless abstract representation of “nature” — which, incidentally, requires de-naturing (i.e., mowing) at regular intervals.

I know, it’s Denmark, which pop-star Randy Newman once called “a cute little country,” and they have that have that Euro-glow of enviro-super-sensitivity and all… but Brøndby was a dumb project and remains dumb… and if you’re in the business of designing human habitats to meet the needs of the future, try to avoid putting people in diagrams.

Thanks to Ryan Tiefen for the nomination.


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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

16 Responses to “August 2021” Subscribe

  1. tom clark August 2, 2021 at 9:39 pm #

    We now have cookie-cutter cars…why not cookie-cutter cul-de-sacs?

  2. tucsonspur August 2, 2021 at 10:05 pm #

    Unusual circular plancakes on a green grass griddle. It’s not the worst of plans I’ve ever seen, and on the upside is the fact that the home sites shaped like pizza slice wedges divided by basil hedges(?) would probably have me eating at Gorm’s or Baest a lot more often than I would otherwise. As long as they’re stocked with plenty of Tuscan reds, like maybe a ‘Poggio Di Sotto Rosso Di Montalcino’, I’m in pizza pie, plancake heaven. I say, how then, could anything be rotten in the state of Denmark?

    This layout is not so bad for its time. Planned and planted perhaps without too much room for emergent or organic growth, but what about places like Mexico City, or Las Vegas, or Shanghai, or many other settlements where emergent growth led to slums or just plain old urban sprawl? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if planned cities could always build up within their original confines, and only create farmland and orchards outward?

    The surrounding open space is accessible to people and could be used for walking, jogging, etc. I don’t know if they actually are, but ball fields and parks and gardens could be nearby. I wouldn’t want the hubbub of parades in back of my house, nor would I want baseballs crashing through my windows and into my bedroom, possibly interrupting my coitus.

    Ebenezer Howard was quite prescient in his planning, realizing how many might be negatively affected by his purgatorial planning, providing such niceties as insane asylums, homes for waifs and homes for inebriates, cemeteries, and last but not least, epileptic farms. He also took something from Ptolemy, with his epicycles of homes moving on a double deferent of railway and canal.

    Not the worst of eyesores, not the best of planning, and since I’m here and not in Denmark, not planning to go out, I’m going to gobble up some ‘Connie’s’ sausage and uncured pepperoni, wash it down with some nice inexpensive, Apollonian Apothic, think about New York, London, Paris and Rome, the planned and the unplanned, and Robert Burns’ saying, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

  3. dowd August 3, 2021 at 5:53 am #

    There is a community very similar to Brøndby Garden City in Denmark
    in southwest Florida called ‘Rotonda West’ featuring water ways connecting every residence. Unfortunately there is no outlet to nearby Gulf of Mexico.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotonda_West,_Florida

  4. MaryQueen August 3, 2021 at 10:58 am #

    Interesting story.

    I just read that these are not homes, that they are gardening sheds/buildings and people are not allowed to live in them, but rent them out and live in the city.

    Bizarre!

    • lateStarter August 3, 2021 at 4:03 pm #

      Probably just weekend get-away places for the city dwellers to ‘reconnect with nature’. I don’t see too many gardens. At least in Poland we had our Dzia?ki where city dwellers would go to and grow some fruits and veggies (and drink beer).

    • worley November 29, 2021 at 11:38 pm #

      Yes — the odd thing is that while these are garden plots for city apartment dwellers, people don’t seem to do much gardening in them. I suspect that the concept dates back several decades, when a lot of people with town/city houses used their yards as vegetable gardens. That was displaced when “truck farming” became industrialized enough that people found it cheaper to buy vegetables from stores. (The old parts of the midwestern town I grew up in had remarkably large back yards and relatively small front yards. Not very useful unless you imagine the back as a garden.) But it looks like the demand for pseudo-country getaways is still high.

  5. tom clark August 3, 2021 at 12:28 pm #

    Rotonda West is an interesting place indeed…and easy to get lost in. A genuine “Circle Game”, for sure. Thanks for the post, dowd.

  6. bymitch August 5, 2021 at 10:43 pm #

    I find this disturbing.
    Suburbia in a nut sack.
    Useless space surrounding more useless space, with the automobile at the centre of everything.
    The common reaction is to jamb a rectilinear box into the wedge shape, as a hopeless gesture, and be done with it.
    Obviously the circular or triangular theme is not favoured at this level.
    Perhaps someone has some sliced kiwifruit print curtains in there somewhere?

  7. My Point of View August 8, 2021 at 2:46 pm #

    Dreadful use of land, or should I say a dreadful waste of land.

    Crop circles for people; who knew!

    I’d like to give them credit for trying something new, but then I wonder how this got past whatever review process that existed there.

  8. HowardBeale August 9, 2021 at 2:01 am #

    A little slice of the dream…

  9. malthuss August 10, 2021 at 6:58 pm #

    I like it. open space.

  10. tkdigitals August 12, 2021 at 5:53 am #

    Dreams are like happening.
    Regards,
    Jack
    2d animation company

  11. Ishabaka August 13, 2021 at 8:27 am #

    I’ve seen worse, but the saddest thing about this is zero sidewalks. It looks like you must get in your car and drive the half mile if you want to visit a friend in the adjacent circle. You’d think in Denmark they’d have considered sidewalks/bicycle lanes.

  12. GreenAlba August 20, 2021 at 7:52 am #

    An aerial view from far enough away not to see the houses would make it difficult to distinguish from a waste water treatment plant.

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