Greendale, WI

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Village of Greendale sign. Source: [1]

Greendale, WI is located just twenty minutes away from Milwaukee. Today, it looks much like any other suburban town in America. While it differs little from typical suburbia now, it was originally built with one goal: to resettle some of the many unemployed during the Great Depression and give them easy access to jobs, stores, and green spaces, all within walking distance.[1]

Background Knowledge

Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture, talking with two men in Greendale. Source: 6/17/1939 Miller, Raymond J.

The New Deal

The New Deal was a collection of different policies and programs created to counter the harsh effects of the Great Depression in America. The New Deal had three primary goals: providing much needed economic relief to the poor, encouraging the recovery of the American economy, and to reform the economics of business and banking in order to prevent a similarly devastating economic failure from occurring again.[2]

The Resettlement Administration

The Resettlement Administration (RA) was founded under the New Deal as part of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act on May 1, 1935. It’s purpose was to specifically address the economic and conservation problems of destitute farmers living on marginal farmlands in the U.S.[3] Marginal farmland is arid or otherwise inhospitable land typically found on the edges of deserts and other desolate locations; it usually has little to no profit potential and poor soil conditions.[4] The RA supplied these poor agricultural workers with loans, relieved their debt, and provided opportunities for resettlement. They also proposed alternative uses for marginal farmlands.[5]

The Greenbelt Towns

There are three Greenbelt towns; they are Greenbelt, MD, Greenhills, OH, and of course, Greendale, WI.[6] These three Greenbelt towns are the result of the only government-sponsored new towns program in the United States. The government was directly responsible for all the steps in constructing the Greenbelt towns. The federal government chose and bought the land, planned and financed all the construction, and finally built the communities. They didn’t leave the administration of these towns in the hands of its inhabitants after their construction either. One could even claim that the government was extremely possessive over the administration of these towns, years after their completion. The government only stepped down when it finally gave residents the ability to purchase the homes they rented from the government.[7]

Building Greendale

Greendale homes surrounded by expansive lawns. Source: Miller, Raymond J.

The construction of Greendale began with the Resettlement Administration’s purchase of 3,400 acres of farmland outside of Milwaukee. The RA had three main goals for this area: to create a new design for suburban community planning by combining the advantages of urban and rural life, to provide affordable and decent housing for moderate income families, and to provide thousands of jobs to unemployed workers. The construction of Greendale began in July 1936. However, the resettlement of the new residents was stalled due to a movers strike during the time the town was completed. Despite the strike, Greendale’s first residents were able to move in on April 30, 1938. The government rented out the housing based on income (a minimum annual income of $1,200 and a maximum of $2,700), need for housing, and family size, although exceptions were made for certain skilled professionals such as doctors. The original Greendale was comprised of a Village Hall, businesses, 571 living units within 366 buildings, a tavern, a movie theater, volunteer fire station, newspaper office, and several schools. A special feature of Greendale was that each residential building had an average of 5,000 sq. ft. of green space for lawns and gardens. Further construction in Greendale was highly restricted by multiple homeowners associations and the belts of parkways surrounding the village itself. As mentioned previously, Greenbelt town residents did not own their homes or businesses in town; all remained the property of the government. It wasn’t until 1949 that the government allowed Greendale residents the opportunity to buy their homes. Most homes and other buildings in Greendale were under the ownership of private persons by 1952.[8]

Greendale's Purpose Today

While Greendale isn't the exact same as it was when it was built nearly eighty years ago, it still resembles its original self. A large number of its original buildings have been preserved as historical landmarks or have simply remained in use over the years. Today one can find numerous new commercial businesses in Greendale that are found in most other places in the U.S. Despite Greendale advancing into the 21st century like most every other town in America, one can still find evidence of its original values. Construction of new buildings in the community remains strictly regulated in order to protect its dedication to open, green spaces.


  1. Wisconsin Historical Society, "The Planned Community of Greendale, Wisconsin," Accessed April 30, 2017.
  2.  Stefan Brooks, New Deal, The 1930s in America. Hackensack: Salem, 2011. Accessed April 30, 2017.
  3. William E. O’Brien, Resettlement Administration, The 1930s in America. Hackensack: Salem, 2011. Accessed April 30, 2017.
  4. Investopedia, "Marginal Land," March 10, 2010, accessed April 30, 2017,
  5. William E. O’Brien, Resettlement Administration, The 1930s in America. Hackensack: Salem, 2011. Accessed April 30, 2017.
  6. Wisconsin Historical Society, "The Planned Community of Greendale, Wisconsin," Accessed April 30, 2017.
  7. John R. McFarland, The Administration of the new Deal Greenbelt Towns, Journal of the American Institute of Planners 32, no. 4 (1966). Accessed April 27, 2017.
  8. Wisconsin Historical Society, "The Planned Community of Greendale, Wisconsin," Accessed April 30, 2017.

Additional Published Resources

Dreier, John. Greenbelt planning; Resettlement administration builds three model towns. New York, 1936.

Greenbelt towns: A demonstration in suburban planning. Washington, DC: Gov.Print.Office, 1936.

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