Poor People’s Parks: The Rise of Environmental Inequality and Resistance in Nineteenth-Century New York City


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Poor People’s Parks” recovers a forgotten vein of environmental activism that grew from green spaces where working people of 19th-century New York City spent their free time. Laborers crowded into a few parks that municipal authorities neglected while investing in green spaces in the wealthier uptown district. Downtowners also patronized commercial parks that reaped profits on the edges of a city without enough public green space. These landscapes that merged experiences of nature, community, pleasure, and resistance generated powerful environmental ideas and activism. Fighting for the value of “poor people’s parks” as sites of play and protest, downtowners critiqued environmental inequity and advanced a powerful and enduring view of access to parks as not a privilege, but a right for all.