Norway’s own home: Garden Cities

Signs of the 19th-century urban-rural housing phenomenon still mark Norwegian cities

garden cities - Ullevål Hageby

Photo: National Library of Norway
Ullevål Hageby, one of Norway’s garden cities, ca. 1925-1930, in a photograph taken by Anders Beer Wilse.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

At the age of 21 in 1871, London-born Ebenezer Howard left England to take up farming as an apprentice on his uncle’s farm in Nebraska, serendipitously in Howard County in the east central part of the state. He enjoyed the rural life, in contrast to the deplorable living conditions he had seen in the industrial cities of England. But he soon found that he was ill suited to farming. Within a year, he moved to Chicago, where he became a stenographer for the courts, using Pitman shorthand that he had taught himself when, as a teenager, he first worked as a clerk in law offices in London. In 1876, he returned to England to work the rest of his life at Hansard, the official verbatim record of the Houses of Parliament.

While in America, Howard became interested in political issues, social justice, and urban planning. He read the works of late 18th-century political activist Thomas Paine, as well as those of leading literary figures of the 19th century including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, and Walt Whitman. In 1898, he published a book delineating his vision of urban communities with gardens and open spaces that combined the benefits of a city with those of a rural area. Entitled To-morrow, A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, revised and again published in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow, it became the founding document of the garden-city movement, a significant legacy of thought in urban planning that spread across Europe and around the world (Further reading).

Egne hjem - garden cities

Image: National Library of Norway
First edition of Egne hjem magazine, October 1902.

In Norway at the turn of the last century, the garden-city movement quickly took root in Kristiania, which in addition to being the country’s capital (renamed Oslo in 1925) then was the country’s largest and most rapidly growing city, much in need of housing. In Norwegian, the movement was named Egne hjem (Own Home), a translation from Egnahemsrörelsen, a late 19th-century Swedish initiative to provide homes for working-class people. It published a magazine entitled Egne hjem.

The building initiatives inspired by the movement in Norway became known as Hageby, a literal translation of “Garden City.” One of the first built was at Lille Tøyen, a residential area in the Grünerløkka district on the working-class east side of the city. It consisted of brick buildings with 318 apartments of one to three rooms. At first, the apartments were owned and rented out by the municipality of Oslo. Then, in 1957, it was converted to a housing cooperative, now with a website at www.lilletoyen.no (in Norwegian only).

Today, there are 43 garden cities in Norway, of which Oslo has 16, more than any other city. The largest in the city as well as the country is Ullevål Hageby, named for a farm adjoining the city on which it was built from 1918 to 1926. It covers an area of 74 acres and consists of 116 brick buildings with 653 residences, single dwellings, row houses, and duplex houses, with small garden plots for all buildings, centered on a landscaped pond called Damplassen (Pond Place). Ullevål Hageby has a website at www.havebyselskapet.no and publishes a residents’ magazine, Hagebybladet (in Norwegian).

garden cities - Ullevål Hageby

Kjetil Ree / Wikimedia commons
The legacy remains­—Ullevål Hageby looks much the same in 2006 as it did 75 years earlier.

Like some other hageby in the country, Ullevål Hageby was intended to provide housing for working-class families but cost more to build than anticipated. So its residences were sold to middle-class buyers. That has been its social profile since, and today its residences are among the most expensive in the city. In an article on the centennial of Ullevål Hageby, Aftenposten reported that this has led to residents sometimes being reluctant to say where they live, lest they be considered snobbish. (Further reading).

Further reading:
To-morrow, A Peaceful Path to Real Reform by Ebenezer Howard, 1898, republished October 2010 by Cambridge Library Collection.

“Ebenezer Howard and the Marriage of Town and Country: An Introduction to Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow (Selection),” Organization and Environment (a Sage journal), Volume 16, issue: 1, March 2003.

Uppstod egnahemsröelsen på landet eller i staden? (Did the Own Home movement begin in the country or in cities?) by Anders Kjellberg, Lund University research archives, 1999: portal.research.lu.se/portal/sv/publications/uppstod-egnahemsroerelsen-paa-landet-eller-i-staden(fdd30654-e3a2-4ae9-ad88-bb9ccfc65159).html (Swedish).

“Mange har fordommer mot Ullevål Hageby” (Many are prejudiced against Ullevål Hageby) by Heidi Borud, Aftenposten, Oct. 28, 2017: www.aftenposten.no/osloby/i/2MVAl/-Mange-har-fordommer-mot-Ulleval-Hageby (Norwegian).

“Garden cities, an idea to be pursued,” les Cahiers, quarterly periodical published (in English) by the Paris Region Development and Urban Planning Institute (IAU Ile-de-France), Number 165, April 2013: www.iau-idf.fr/fileadmin/NewEtudes/Etude_986/Cahier_no_165_web.pdf, a comprehensive, illustrated overview of the status of garden cities in the 21st century, with examples of those in France and Brazil.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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