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Greenbelt is a city in Prince George’s County, Maryland, United States. Contained within today’s City of Greenbelt is the historic planned community now known locally as “Old Greenbelt” and designated as the Greenbelt Historic District. Greenbelt’s population was 23,068 at the 2010 U.S. Census.
Greenbelt is known widely as a public cooperative community founded in the New Deal Era. Greenbelt was one of three “green” towns planned in 1935 under the United States Resettlement Administration, along with Greendale, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee) and Green hills, Ohio (near Cincinnati).
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center is located in Greenbelt, as is Greenbelt Park, a unit of the National Park System. The Greenbelt Arts Center is located in Old Greenbelt.
Old Greenbelt was settled in 1937 as a public cooperative community in the New Deal Era. The concept was at the same time both eminently practical and idealistically utopian: the federal government would foster an “ideal” self-sufficient cooperative community that would also ease the pressing housing shortage near the nation’s capital. Construction of the new town would also create jobs and thus help stimulate the national economic recovery following the Great Depression.
Greenbelt, which provided affordable housing for federal government workers, was one of three “green” towns planned in 1935 by Rexford Guy Tugwell, head of the United States Resettlement Administration, under authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act. The two other green towns are Greendale, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee) and Green hills, Ohio (near Cincinnati). A fourth green town, Roosevelt, New Jersey (originally called Homestead), was planned but was not fully developed on the same large scale as Greenbelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped Tugwell lay out the Maryland town on a site that had formerly consisted largely of tobacco fields. She was also heavily involved in the first cooperative community designed by the federal government in the New Deal Era, Arthurdale, West Virginia, which sought to improve the lives of impoverished laborers by enabling them to create a self-sufficient, and relatively prosperous, cooperative community. Cooperatives in Greenbelt include the Greenbelt News Review, Greenbelt Consumers Coop grocery store, the New Deal Cafe, and the cooperative forming the downtown core of original housing, Greenbelt Homes Incorporated (GHI).
The architectural planning of Greenbelt was innovative, but no less so than the social engineering involved in this federal government project. Applicants for residency were interviewed and screened based on income and occupation, and willingness to become involved in community activities.
Much of the community is now located within the Greenbelt Historic District; listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Greenbelt was the subject of the 1939 documentary film The City.
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