Cityscape by City Beautiful Reformer Jacob A. Riis, 1890

  From 1860-1910 the US population jumped from 31.4 million to 91.9 million.  That means that over this span of forty years the population tripled in size.  Urban centers especially felt a strain as 46% of the population lived in urban areas.  Cities stretched to accommodate these millions and deteriorated in the process. As the destitute crowded cities, living in back alleys and crowded apartments, the upper classes moved out of the city centers to the peaceful retreat of the countryside.  The advent of urban rail systems and roadways allowed for this upper-class migration to the suburbs.  Those elite who stayed in the city were surrounded by poverty and feared for their safety, many city-dwellers were desperate for money and food.  In the center of Washington, D.C., 18,978 people lived in 303 alleys surrounding upper-class townhouses (Rose).  

The National Mall was a City Beautiful Plan passed in 1901

  The City Beautiful Movement, lead by the middle and upper classes, was meant to deal with  these rising issues of sanitation, crime, and over-population of cities.  In the height of the Gilded Age, these reformers felt the best way to deal with these issues was through consumption and creation of beauty.  They felt that classic beauty of the city would inspire feelings of civic loyalty and moral rectitude in the impoverished that would help to lower crime rates.  Uncultivated backyards and vacant lots were seen as eyesores (Basset,1981). In fact, some kitchen gardens nourishing the poor were “improved” or destroyed to be replaced by elegant and classic-style parks and promenades (Williamson).

Lady Henry showing T.P. O’Connor the Children’s Garden

  Basset, however, believes that it gave teachers and school children an opportunity to become involved in gardening and being outside.  For example, Minneapolis’ Garden Club cultivated many of the city’s vacant lots.  They grew so many vegetables that local stores began carrying their produce.  These garden city plots worked across social classes to improve health, save money, and “provide rest from the tensions of urban life” (Basset 1981).  The benefits of these gardens helped to shape America’s perceptions of growing vegetables in cities, aspects reflected in current day community gardens (Williamson)


Click here to learn more about Liberty gardens during World War I.

To return to the main history page click here.


If the City Beaustiful movement just fascinates you here’s some references….


Bassett, Thomas J.  “Reaping on the Margins: A Century of Community Gardening in 

America.”  Landscape, 1981 v25 n2. 1-8.


Gilbert, Stephanie Paterson. The City Beautiful Movement and Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward.


Rose, Julie K. 1996.  City Beauiful: The 1901 Plan for Washington D.C. Aproject of American Studies at America University.


Wikipedia. The City Beautiful Movement.


Williamson, Erin A. A Deeper Ecology: Community Gardens in the Urban Environment. U Delaware.

Really great paper found of the City Farmer website, it has great background and history and incite into the need for and role of community gardens in North America.


School children gardening 1912-1918.

lots of cute little kids gardening in quaint clothing.

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One Response to “2. City Beautiful Movement, 1890-1910”

  1. detsy Says:

    thanks for all the useful links. :)

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