The Garden City, the subject of Anastasiya Boika’s research for her Noontime Scholar presentation on “Curing the Ailments of City Living: The Garden City in Late Imperial Russia,” is the eventual product of the Garden City movement which began at the tail-end of the 19th century under the tutelage of Sir Ebenezer Howard in the United Kingdom. The Garden City movement attempted to introduce a new way of urban planning to create a sort of utopian living situation within the city in order to address land and housing questions that had come to play during industrialization. These Garden Cities, developed from socialist ideals of utopia, would bring together aspects of the town (or city) and countryside to create a union of the two. This union would then bring about a society where there were no vices, only virtues. This town-country would come about through a number of steps. First the land would be bought at a low price, and then a company would start work on the land. Eventually, the workers would then buy the company from its owners, thus owning the means of production, the work, and the land all at once. These Garden Cities contained not only farmland and urban places, but also all aspects that could maximize the happiness within a city. The ultimate goal of these Garden Cities was to stop the current development of massive urban centers and metropolises, as they would create an imbalance between the town and the country, thus adversely impacting the people. The importance and significance of town-country is exemplified in Howard’s Three Magnets, which shows how the town-country system solves the issues of both the town itself and the country itself.
Anastasiya Boika, a PhD candidate in History at Queen’s University, focused on the impact of Howard’s ideals and the Garden City on Russian thinkers and ideals from the early 20th century to the early Soviet period. Due to the nature of the Garden City, the sentiments and ideals that the Garden City movement portrayed struck a chord with Russian revolutionaries and those Russians who wanted change. Anastasiya Boika noted that the first contact between Russians and Howard’s work in 1902, when they obtained documents of his work, especially the Three Magnets.
However, when Russians encountered Howard’s work, it was in a translated form. Indeed, The Three Magnets was translated from English into German, and then from German into Russian. The Three Magnets were thus translated from English into German, and then from German into Russian. This game of translation telephone, on top of different translations of the Three Magnets and Howard’s other ideas, like Dikanski’s Three Magnets from 1908 and Semenov’s Prozorovka, meant that the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding of Howard’s central concepts and eventual goal of the Garden City was highly probable, lost in translation. Semenov actually met with Howard, who saw merit in his work, which included introducing an elastic plan. This elastic plan meant that the town would become much like an organism, something that is flexible and changes with its environments, as the towns reflect the populace.
Due to these differences in translations and the historical timing (World War I was just around the corner, then followed by the Russian Revolution in 1917), the Garden City was never actualized in Russia, and the Russian movement was deemed a failure. However, Boika noted that one could not deny the impact the Garden City movement had on the Revolution and early modern urban planning. While the Garden City movement never came to fruition within Russia, ideals and aspects of the Garden City, such as communal living, did find its way into the Soviet standards of urban living and urban development. Thus, the Garden City, while never actually existing in Russia, can still claim to have played a part in the development of Soviet living.
Nicholas Higgins is a Masters student in the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include the development of identity separate from the Soviet identity during Glasnost’ and Perestroika, the current relations between Russia and its neighbors, especially Russia’s relations with Ukraine. He received his B.A in Philosophy and Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies from Miami University of Ohio in 2015. He is currently working on his Masters thesis, which is attempting to translate Søren Kierkegaard‘s model of faith into a political and social model that could represent the political and social nature of the late Soviet era.