The question of how New Mark Commons got its name has never been fully resolved, apart from references to the idea that it represented a “new mark” on the landscape. But the addition of Esplanade to our main street certainly provided an international ambience to the neighborhood (and has flummoxed countless residents to spell it and explain it to outsiders.)

Nonetheless, we do know this: Ed Bennett, developer of New Mark Commons, was keenly interested in the large-scale planned communities being developed in post-war Europe. He visited many of them and showed his appreciation in naming most of the streets in New Mark.

To commemorate New Mark’s 50th anniversary, we are publishing a series of background stories about what part of the world our streets represent. Our year-long celebrations will culminate on October 21 with the annual Board of Directors’ cocktail party.

The pioneering visionary for communities like New Mark Commons was the English reformer, Ebenezer Howard, whose 1898 book, Garden Cities of Tomorrow, advocated construction of a new kind of town which would have housing, commerce, and industry interspersed with green space and surrounded by a greenbelt of wooded and agricultural land. The goal was “a town designed for healthy living and industry of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life but not larger, surrounded by a rural belt; the whole of the land being in public ownership, or held in trust for the community.”

After World War II, the British government embarked on a program of building “new towns,” mainly in the London region, to emulate the careful planning of the pioneering Garden Cities and to meet the huge demand for housing after the destruction of the war. Other European countries followed this model.

  • Letchworth, UK: Howard’s principles were first applied in Letchworth, about 38 miles north of London, on 4,000 acres originally purchased by Quakers for farming and a Quaker community. Named after an existing village, Letchworth Garden City was started in 1903 and now has a population of about 34,000. England’s first roundabout is here. This first garden city was also officially dry, which led to plenty of pubs on its outskirts.
  • Welwyn, UK: Welwyn Garden City was the second of Howard’s experiments. Land was purchased in 1919 in Hertfordshire south of Letchworth, about 20 miles north of central London. In 2011, the population was 46,600. The town is laid out along tree-lined boulevards with a Neo-Georgian town center. Every road has a wide grass verge. The spine of the town is Parkway, a central mall or scenic parkway, almost a mile long. The view along Parkway to the south was once described as one of the world’s finest urban vistas.

–by John Hansman

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