Rather than planning the communities itself, the prospectus calls for local "visionaries" to submit plans for garden cities to include affordable homes, good schools, and jobs for the next generation, while at the same time preserving the countryside.
They will be able to bid for parts of a £1 billion funding pot for developments up to 2020. Any scheme will have to have the approval of local councils.
Launching the prospectus Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he wanted to see "communities where future generations will live, work, have children, grow up and grow old".
"This is a call to arms for visionaries in local areas in need of housing to put forward radical and ambitious proposals to develop their own garden cities."
The report emphasises that green cities offer the chance to build in the features most valued by residents - including quality landscape - from the start:
"Development at a large scale creates the opportunity to create real and lasting benefits: attributes that people most value such as quality design, garden, accessible green space near homes, access to employment and local amenities - can be designed in from the outset."
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "The coalition government scrapped top-down building targets, along with the last administration’s failed eco-towns programme, which built nothing but resentment.
"Instead, this government is committed to working with local communities who want to build more homes in attractive and sustainable developments where people can live and raise their families."