Greenbelt Communities

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GREENBELT COMMUNITIES Among the numerous public works projects undertaken by the New Deal during the 1930s, one of the most innovative was the three "greenbelt" towns: Greenbelt, Maryland, out-side Washington, D.C.; Greenhills, Ohio, north of Cincinnati; and Greendale, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. The towns took their names from the wide belt of open land surrounding each, separating them from adjacent suburban developments and reinforcing their sense of local cohesion. The New Deal's Resettlement Administration constructed the towns between 1935 and 1938, giving jobs to twenty-five thousand unemployed workers. Exemplifying the most advanced planning ideas, Greenbelt, the largest of the three towns, received the most public attention. Its 885 dwellings were carefully arranged on super blocks with generous amounts of open space. The town center contained a municipal building, retail stores, a movie theater, a gas station, a swimming pool, and a public school that also served as a community center. Pedestrian paths wound through each neighborhood, passed safely under major roads, and linked all the dwellings to the town center. Greenhills (676 dwellings) and Greendale (572 dwellings) followed the same general plan as Greenbelt but on more modest scales.

The greenbelt communities received widespread praise for their innovative designs, but because influential private real estate interests strongly opposed such development, no others were built. Following World War II, Congress ordered the U.S. Housing Administration to sell the towns. Many residents of Greenhills and Greendale purchased their dwellings. The greenbelt lands, nearly all of which lay outside the village boundaries, were bought by real estate developers, who covered them with more expensive houses. In Greenbelt, where far more unoccupied land lay within the town boundaries, residents formed a housing cooperative and purchased the original town and a large section of the surrounding territory. Frustrated by attempts to manage and develop the unoccupied land, the cooperative decided to sell it to private developers, who covered the property with housing units and commercial centers. By the year 2000 Greenbelt contained 10,180 houses and 21,456 residents. Greendale had 6,011 houses and 14,405 residents, and Greenhills had 1,639 houses and 4,103 residents. In spite of their inability to control the postwar development of the lands surrounding their towns, the "greenbelters" continued to exhibit the strong sense of community spirit that characterized their actions during the New Deal era and passed this spirit on to many of the new residents.


Alanen, Arnold R., and Joseph A. Eden. Main Street Ready-Made: The New Deal Community of Greendale, Wisconsin. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1987.

Arnold, Joseph L. The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program, 19351954. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971.

Knepper, Cathy D. Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Miller, Zane L. Suburb: Neighborhood and Community in Forest Park, Ohio, 19351976. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

Williamson, Mary Lou, ed. Greenbelt: History of a New Town, 19371987. Norfolk, Va.: Donning Publishers, 1987.

Joseph L. Arnold

See also Resettlement Administration .