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The work that parks do: towards an urban environmentality

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Cities today are typically framed as sites of capitalist development, while the urban park is theorized as an indirect response to the emerging hegemony of industrial production in the nineteenth century. Yet, this historical framing tells us little about the process through which our notions of 'the city' and of 'nature' are produced, or how this knowledge affects the formation of urban people's identities. The discursive formation of the capitalist city can be traced to specific historical moments, one of which is the construction of urban parks during the mid- to late-nineteenth century, which I argue was instrumental in producing a new knowledge of the capitalist city by creating a boundary between the social space of the city and the natural space of the park. Using Philadelphia's Fairmount Park as a case study, I draw on archival photographs and annual park commission reports to explore the formation of park subjects during this period and shed light on diverse economic practices that were once widespread in and around the city but whose erasure was ultimately a prerequisite for the successful formation of an urban discourse organized around the construction of the city/nature boundary.

Keywords: Philadelphia; diverse economies; environmentality; parks; urban political ecology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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