It was 1937 when the first families moved into the planned community of Greenbelt. Located in Prince George’s County, the community is one of three “green” towns planned in 1935-1936 under Rexford Guy Tugwell, head of the United States Resettlement Administration during the New Deal Era. Along with its sister cities, Greenhills, Ohio and Greendale, Wisconsin, Greenbelt was built to provide work and affordable housing for federal government workers in nearby Washington, D.C. It was intended to address housing shortage and the resulting societal and health issues believed to stem from overcrowded and substandard housing.
Although designed by the federal government, it was expected that the public cooperative community would ideally become self-sufficient and prosperous. It was arranged in the garden city method as a self-contained community surrounded by a literal “greenbelt” of space for parks and recreation, and agriculture. The government initially constructed 574 rowhouses, 306 apartment units and a few pre-fabricated detached homes. Around 5,000 people applied for these homes. The families were interviewed and screened and although African Americans helped to build Greenbelt they were not allowed to live there until the early 1960s.
Today Greenbelt continues the experiment in cooperative community living. The Greenbelt Historic District contains the original core around which the larger city of Greenbelt has expanded with many of the earliest buildings retaining original features. Most of these are owned by Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), whose mission statement directs that they will “provide quality cooperative housing, in perpetuity.”
GHI has recently undertaken a project to conduct a district wide energy audit to identify energy efficiency strategies that retain the historic fabric of their homes. Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust recently awarded a Heritage Fund grant of $ 2,500 to support an energy efficiency evaluation in anticipation that the project may be replicable in historic communities across the state and country.