Mother and daughter cut flowers in their cottage style garden in Greenbelt, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., September 1938, by Marion Post Wolcott, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Greenbelt was one of three* “Greenbelt Towns” created by the New Deal federal government in the late 1930s. The built-from-scratch communities were designed to provide the best of both city and country living.
In addition to affordable housing, they incorporated commercial, medical, educational, and social facilities — all within park-like landscaping.
. . .Greenbelt was an experiment in both the physical and social planning that preceded its construction. Homes were grouped in superblocks, with a system of interior walkways permitting residents to go from home to town center without crossing a major street. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic were carefully separated. The two curving major streets were laid out upon and below a crescent-shaped natural ridge. Shops, school, ball fields, and community buildings were grouped in the center of this crescent.
. . .The first families were chosen not only to meet [low] income criteria, but also to demonstrate willingness to participate in community organizations.
[They] arrived on October 1, 1937, [and] found no established patterns or institutions of community life. Almost all were under 30 years of age. All considered themselves pioneers in a new way of life. A mix of blue and white collar workers, they reflected the religious composition of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish; but because of the racial bias controlling public policy at that time, all were white.†
. . .In 1952, when Congress voted to sell off the greenbelt towns, citizens in Greenbelt formed a housing cooperative (Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corporation, later Greenbelt Homes, Inc.)
“Old Greenbelt” has been well preserved over the years and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The photo above shows some of its rowhouses with gardens in 2005. It was taken by James W. Rosenthal for an Historic American Buildings Survey (via Library of Congress).
†The Census found that 41% of residents were African-American in 2000.