Places that Matter

Sunnyside Gardens

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Sunyside Gardens Preservation Alliance
Sunyside Gardens Preservation Alliance
Angela Starita
Angela Starita
Angela Starita
C. Stein
C. Stein
Neighborhood designed with "garden city" plan
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Place Matters Profile

By Angela Starita

Sunnyside Gardens is the first garden community in the United States, a forebear of such places as Radburn, New Jersey. Located in Queens and built in the 1920s, it sought to introduce a new form for urban living, one that emphasized communal green space.

Built between 1924 and 1928, Sunnyside is the first planned garden community in the United States. It was built as a project of the City Housing Corporation (CHC), a group that organized in March 1924 to counter the haphazard and extensive construction that had started in Queens after World War I. Acres of houses sprouted up without any concessions to park space or other planning elements. The CHC’s designers were adamant about providing green space for residents. To them, shared open gardens were fundamental to creating a true community that would be a haven from the city. In this, they drew on the ideas of British planner Ebenezer Howard and architect Raymond Unwin, designers of the Garden City plan.

Although the company was designed to make a modest profit, its founders primarily had philanthropic goals in mind, with all but the architects and planner working pro bono. In a 1924 pamphlet, the CHC noted that it sought to serve as a model for other builders by demonstrating that building well could be cost effective and by showing the importance of including “ample outdoor play space.” More than 70 percent of each block was set aside for green space -- vastly more than typical contemporary construction. With their low-rise, garden-centered design, the chief designers hoped to provide a new approach to urban living.

The CHC also aimed to encourage lower middle class citizens to become property owners, by exploring new financing methods and forms of cooperative home ownership. But the notions of cooperative living were never clearly articulated, and the most communal aspect of the project -- the central courts -- were an odd mixture of public and private property.