In 1901, Joseph's son Seebohm Rowntree published a study of the living conditions of the working classes in York, entitled Poverty: a study of town life. It revealed appalling statistics of dark, overcrowded and insanitary housing.
Joseph Rowntree's conviction that it must be possible to provide better housing for people on low incomes led him to acquire 150 acres of land near the village of Earswick, two and a half miles to the north of the centre of York. The planner Raymond Unwin and the architect Barry Parker were commissioned to produce an overall plan for a new 'garden' village and the detailed designs for its first houses. They were to go on to design the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn. New Earswick was one of their first opportunities to put their ideas into practice.
The building of New Earswick was an attempt to create a balanced village community where, although rents were to be kept low, they should still represent a modest commercial return on the capital invested. Houses there were to be open to any working people, not just Rowntree employees. The village was to be a demonstration of good practice: if New Earswick was successful, Joseph hoped that similar communities would be built elsewhere in the country.
At Joseph Rowntree's insistence, houses had gardens with fruit trees and enough ground to grow vegetables. The Trust Deed of the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust (which was set up in 1904 to build and manage New Earswick) safeguarded generous open green space. All the grass verges were planted with trees and almost all the roads are named after trees. The village was built from the very ground it stands on: the bricks were made in the brickworks on the outskirts of New Earswick. From 1950 the brickyard, which closed down in the 1930s, was developed into a nature reserve.
New Earswick continues to be a thriving community with a range of facilities, projects and programmes for involving residents of all ages. Accommodation in New Earswick includes housing for families and single people sheltered, housing and care for older people, bungalows and studio flats.