What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

234 - "Slumless, Smokeless Cities"

January 19, 2008, 9:52 AM


Take that, Harry Beck. Try as you might, the lines on your Tube map could never be as straight as this.

Beck schematised a transportation system that was completely irregularly laid out to begin with. This map, however, shows how planning ahead would enable not just symmetry, but also better living conditions, or as the map itself states: “Slumless, Smokeless Cities”.

The map was drawn up by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), the father of the garden city movement. Howard believed the living conditions of the poor, huddled masses cramped together in giant, insalubrious cities could be improved by combining the best aspects of town and country and carefully allocating space to housing, industry and agriculture.

He explained his urban planning ideas in ‘Tomorrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ (1898), republished as ‘Garden Cities of To-morrow’ in 1902, the year before he would actually found the very first garden city in the world: Letchworth Garden City, in the south of England. In 1920, he would found a second one, Welwyn Garden City, where he single-handedly planted a tree in the garden of each house.

The British garden city movement was important influence on the later strategy of building new towns in the UK, and spawned parallel movements in the US, Canada, Argentina, Israel and Germany.

As with most instances of social engineering, the garden city movement didn’t quite achieve what it set out to do. Its laudable motives and egalitarian vision contrast with the often depressing artificiality of ‘garden cities’, and the fact that they merely function as dormitories to the larger cities they so often adjoin.

This map of a planned, but as yet unbuilt conurbation of ‘slumless, smokeless cities’ has a few notable aspects:

Central City (pop. 58.000) is the hub for 6 surrounding garden cities (pop. 32.000 each), all given idyllic names such as Philadelphia (‘brotherly love’), Rurisville (as in ‘rural’), Justitia, Gladstone (presumably after the Prime Minister), Garden City and Concord. • Each of these 7 urban centres is surrounded by a canal, which also connects them to the neighbouring and the central cities, forming a wheel-shaped system of waterways, the Inter Municipal Canal. • A slightly smaller circle is formed by the Inter Municipal Railway. Within this circle lie several curious institutions: ‘Homes for Waifs’ (one imagines a neighbourhood populated by petite, sulking catwalk beauties), ‘Epileptic Farms’ (must be annoying for the cows when they’re being milked), ‘Large Farms’, an ‘Insane Asylum’ and a ‘Home for Inebriates’. • Outside the circular railway, indeed outside the circular canal, are ‘Convalescent Homes’, ‘Stone Quarries’, ‘Cemetery’, a ‘College for the Blind’ and ‘Industrial Homes’. • Although all basically the same shape (a circle divided into four equal parts by the intersecting waterways), each of the satellite cities has a different lay-out, allowing for variation (so those inebriates aren’t unduly confused on their way home).

This map was provided to me by Arjan Daniels.


234 - "Slumless, Smokeless ...

Newsletter: Share: