The City of Greenbelt was conceived, built, and for a long time owned by the Federal government. Greenbelt was one of three "green cities" built during the Great Depression. The theory of "green cities" was revolutionary: each would be a carefully planned mix of low-cost housing, farms, and public open space. In Greenbelt, the first residents were carefully screened for "character," and everyone submitted to strict community rules.
Greenbelt won widespread praise for its design and occasional criticism for its social trappings. The government continued to operate Greenbelt until 1952, when a cooperative of residents purchased the government homes. Today, the old town is surrounded by modern development, but the heart of the city still stands.
The construction of Greenbelt employed people of many skills, including artists. Several of the public buildings in town feature friezes or bas relief works like this one at the Greenbelt Community Center - most of them reflecting the social values planners hoped to promote through the Greenbelt project.
[Lower, left and center:] President Roosevelt visits Greenbelt in 1936. For Roosevelt, the construction of Greenbelt had immediate and practical benefits. The work employed more than 13,000 men and women during the Great Depression.
Planners avoided traditional city blocks; the final design required just six miles of streets. The land that is now Greenbelt Park was to have been developed as housing, but the project lost momentum, and in 1950 the land was dedicated as a park.
The city's art deco style (right) made it both distinctive and famous. Strict rules sought to improve the appearance of the city; one called for all laundry to be removed from clotheslines by 4 o'clock each day.