The Old Fragmentations Of The Industrial City

Industrial urbanization was a fragmenting process and, by extension, the industrial metropolis was a city of fragments whose patterns, structures, social and environmental consequences are now the inherited stuff of neoliberal articulation and creative destruction (see Harvey 1992). Few areas demonstrate this geography better than the urban park in the nineteenth-century US city. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide a political and social history of the urban park movement in this country (for that I would direct readers to excellent accounts by Cranz 1982; Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1992; and Taylor 1999), it is nonetheless imperative to point out that the history and geography of urban parks in America accompanied and were heavily influenced by the intense urbanization of capital and the new patterns of uneven development and class fragmentation taking place during this period in America's urban history (Harvey 1985; 1992).

By most accounts (Cranz 1982; Stormann 1991; Rosenzweig and Blackmar 1992; Taylor 1999) urban parks arose as tools of social control—landscapes where, it was hypothesized, the values and aesthetics of nature, leisure, and recreation embraced by the country-dwelling, capital-owning middle and upper classes would trickle down to educate, placate, civilize, and (consequently) increase the productivity of the city-dwelling working class (Taylor 1999). Thus, the distribution of urban parks reflected and was intended to aid in the reproduction of the fragmented social geographies and class structure of urban industrial society. And, indeed, although their social milieu and demographic surroundings have likely changed over the course of the past century— when spatial divisions by class were overshadowed by fragmentations by race (Massey and Denton 1993; Hacker 1995)—with few exceptions, today's park geographies in the northern post-industrial cities are legacies of this industrial past.

Moreover, urban nature parks are themselves, fragments. Also referred to as islands or parcels in the language of landscape ecology (Forman 1998), urban parks and greenspaces are ecological isolates embedded within a milieu of urban growth and development; their geographies, geometries, and isolation from other natural spaces overexpose them to the myriad inputs (or disturbances) of the city, including: trash; water, air, and soil pollution; and invasive species (i.e., weeds), often escapees from yards, botanical and zoological gardens, and international seaports (see With 2002; Mooney and Hobbs 2000). As a result, urban parks—like ecological islands generally— are exceptionally prone to widespread and intense environmental change (Pickett and White 1985; Saunders et al. 1991); without relentless environmental management and maintenance, urban park ecosystems rapidly become dominated by non-native, weedy ecologies whose evolutionary characteristics and ecological abilities to not only survive but thrive under the persistent and often severe environmental conditions of the city have made them the bane of urban ecologists and park advocates (Harnik 2000; Falck 2002).

More often than not, this is the ecological inheritance passed on by the industrial city, and the "new" urban parks movement (e.g., Garvin and Berens 1997; Harnik 2000), with its accompanying discourse of entrepreneurial nature, has focused on these weedy ecologies as the sites of creative (ecological) destruction.1 Towards this end, it has been accompanied by the rapid emergence of restoration ecology as a key environmental management tool in US and Western European cities during the 1980s and 1990s (see Gobster and Hull 2000; Lindig-Cisneros and Zedler 2000). As its primary objective, restoration ecology emphasizes the control and the removal of these inherited ecologies from (in this case) urban parks and their replacement with some arbitrary past, though ideologically normative and "natural", native floral structure (McGinnis and Woolley 1997; Gobster and Hull 2000; cf. Sprugel 1991; Botkin 2001).

In the remainder of this chapter, I explore the dynamics of inherited fragmentations and entrepreneurial visions of nature as they have unfolded and confronted one another in a West Philadelphia community. Narratives provided by Cobbs Creek residents and park officials are used as a means of drawing attention to the discursive and political significance attached to environmental change and narratives of nature in the local Cobbs Creek Park. They were gathered in focus groups and in-depth interviews in the summer of 2000 and the fall of 2001.

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