Anti-Depressant Properties

The cure for poverty and overcrowding in the 1930s: Greenbelt

December 8, 2011

The 836-square-foot Greenbelt Museum house holds marvels such as five closets. Five!

“The Penalty of Bad Planning: Waste, Ugliness, Congestion.” So sayeth “Greenbelt Towns,” a 1936 brochure trumpeting the need for planned communities where families could rent affordable homes; walk to shops and recreational facilities; and enjoy safe, green spaces, all administered by the federal government. Three were built — Greenhills, Ohio; Greendale, Wis.; and Greenbelt, Md.

Backstory: Greenbelt towns were born of the New Deal, FDR’s anti-Great Depression program. Despite screams of “socialism!” from some quarters, more than 5,000 families applied for the 885 Maryland houses; move-ins began in 1937. In 1952, residents bought their homes from the government, becoming the housing cooperative that presides today. The Greenbelt Museum house opened in 1987.

The House: Greenbelt planners rejected conventions like front and back doors. The “garden side” entrance faces the pedestrian walkways; the “service side” is for trash, deliveries, etc. The sturdy, compact furniture, made specifically for Greenbelt homes, could teach Ikea a thing or two.

The Town: There’s much to admire: the bas-reliefs on the Community Center, by sculptor Lenore Thomas; the Art Deco curves of the public buildings; the “super blocks,” oversized groups of houses, paths and detached garages that shunt cars to the perimeters.

Upcoming: 2012 is the 75th anniversary of Greenbelt! All will rejoice.

Gift Shop: Retro toys, Greenbelt-themed knickknacks, the new book “Images of America: Greenbelt.” Visit Greenbelthomes.net for such bargains as three-bedroom homes in the mid-$200,000s. That is not a typo.

Greenbelt Museum, 10B Crescent Road, Greenbelt, Md.; Sundays, 1-5 p.m., $1-$3. See website for info on scheduling walking tours or to download self-guided walking tour instructions.
Holly J. Morris is Express' managing editor for features.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · December 8, 2011