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A Review of the Yorkship Garden Village Plan 2009/12/09

Posted by youzhou in Land and Community Development.
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You Zhou

1 Brief Introduction

Yorkship Village, later known as Fairview, was a planned industrial community in Camden of New Jersey built by federal government in 1918 with an intention to provide housing for workers in shipbuilding and munitions industries during World War I.

2 The Purpose of Yorkship Garden Village

In 1990s, Camden was a depressed industrial city with the lowest income and second highest crime rate in state of New Jersey. World War I posted a severe demand on the nation’s military material industry, but the production was brought down by the insufficient supply of housing to accommodate the influx of workers into industrial centers. Such situation impelled Emergency Fleet Corporation and United State Housing Corporation, the two federal entities created by Congress, to make the unprecedented move of constructing communities for wartime labors. As a result, Yorkship Village was designed by Electus Litchfield under the guidance of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Frederick Ackerman to house employees of New York Shipbuilding Corporation.

3 The Achievement and Influence of Yorkship Garden Village

As one of the first federally financed and administered public housing development, Yorkship Garden Village is a model being studied and praised by New Urbanism.

Its central village green and street plan was one of the most innovative characteristics introduced by Yorkship Village. Heavily influenced by garden city ideal, the designers placed civic center in a central location, while organized public institutions oriented to it in order to promote social interactions. It successfully actualized the tenet of garden city, the harmony between man and nature, in planning self-contained communities surrounded by greenbelts and carefully balancing the use of residential, industrial and commercial land. The only distinction between garden cities and Yorkship Village is that it discouraged traffic flow within the community, while garden cites are oriented toward automobiles. Therefore, Yorkship provides a stunning exemplar for revitalizing abandoned industrial cities.

Yorkship Garden Village was the first experiment succeeded in the planning of neighborhood unit. Various types of human-scale houses clustered on different sizes of neighborhoods, set back at varying distances from their lots, but simulated each other within a uniform village plan. Its greenbelts were functioned not only for residents to experience nature, but also as buffer zones clearly delineate high density housing clusters from one another.

Despite of accomplishing an admirable community design, Ackerman originated a land tenure structure drawn from Howard’s plan for garden cities. Because of the unique economic basis of Yorkship Village as a public-private partnership community, Ackerman and his colleagues fervently favored that the village could remain under government administration and owned by cooperative or public, so that the rent would remain at the level corresponding to its initial working class and the appreciation in land value could be captured to benefit the community.

Nowadays, great communities perceived by planners are usually characterized as those with a mix of functional land use, visually pleasant architectural design, accommodating multi-model transportation, and encouraging social communications and community involvement. Though a plan designed almost a century ago, Yorkship Garden Village fulfilled all the criteria of a great community even looking from the lens of a modernist. While the other affordable housing in Camden was experiencing depreciating property value, some of which was originally resided by more affluent residents, Yorkship maintained a constant growing land value and highest resale rate.

The success of Yorkship Village lends an excellent example to planners transforming depressed inner cities, demonstrating that a good comprehensive plan and a foreseeing vision can create lasting communities with unique personality and harmonious atmosphere. It also proved that a central government authority is capable of successfully planning and executing these projects.

4 The Shortfall of Yorkship Garden Village

Implemented by a group of excellent housing and planning reformers who progressively sought for better living conditions for low-income laborers, Yorkship Village remain an inspiration for practicing planners for hundreds of year to come. However, it should be noted that the project could have done better in certain aspects. It cost the United States Housing Corporation approximately $11 million to construct the village, causing the government to auction it off for private ownership as the wartime ceased. The lobbing and efforts put forth by architects and planners were unable to withdraw the government’s intention, and a large number of residents were forced to relocate given their inability to match the price realtor and speculators bid for. If given a long enough period to recover the cost, Yorkship will ultimately be profitable, as the examples revealed from other government-sponsored housing projects in other parts of the nation, Britain and other European countries.

5 Conclusions

Located in Camden, New Jersey, Yorkship Village was a planned industrial community built by federal government to provide housing for workers of New York Shipbuilding Corporation during World War I. It is one of the best among the 55 development implemented by government authority. The planners successfully planed for a community with a mix of functional land use, visually pleasant architectural design, accommodating multi-model transportation, and encouraging social communications and community involvement. It brought about the innovative planning notions such as central village green, neighborhood unit and land tenure structure. Its success demonstrated that with a good comprehensive plan and a foreseeing vision, a central government authority is capable of creating lasting communities with unique personality and harmonious atmosphere. Regretfully, the village was auctioned to private owners after the war terminated due to the substantive amount of construction cost encumbered.

Reference

Arnold, Joseph L. (1971) The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program, 1935-1954. Ohio State University Press.

Brook, Daniel. (2005) “Unnecessary Excellence”, Harpers Magazine (Mar.): 76-79.

Knack, Ruth. (1998) “History Takes the Gold”, Planning 64, 4.

Lang, Michael H. (1996) “The Design of Yorkship Garden Village: Product of the Progressive Planning, Architecture, and Housing Reform Movements”, Planning the Twentieth-Century American City. The Johnson Hopkins University Press.

Lang, Michael H. (2001) “Town Planning and Radicalism in the Progressive Era: the Legacy of F. L. Ackerman”, Planning Perspectives 16: 143–167.

“Yorkship Village”. Wikipedia. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkship_Village

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