I’m reading a fascinating new book (by Francis R. Kowsky) about the design and construction of the Olmsted Park and Parkway system in Buffalo titled ‘The Best Planned City in the World’. I’m from the Buffalo area and have maintained my ties there, and am veryy familiar with this park system. It’s a great and beautiful part of the city.
But what stands out, in reading the history of the parks, is a thing I tend to romanticize about the post-Civil War era in US history. The thing that made an Olmsted (see also Central Park in NYC) possible. And that is the palpable, widely shared idea that Americans were building a civilization in its cities, and it was a civilization that would be publicly shared by everybody. Okay, go ahead, lecture me about elitism and robber barrons and all the rest. I’ll listen, and probably agree with most of what you have to say. And probably all the late 19th century talk about civilization was self-serving and plenty convenient for the leading citizens of the city, and the nation. Stipulated. But it’s also pretty clear that they believed it. And that belief resulted in the building of an exquisite and breathtaking network of greenspace, threaded though the city, and enjoyed to this day.
Which brings us to this day. We still have elites, and the robber barrons are back. But what do we have now that is comparable to this belief in building a civilization?