Amid the massive project of national reconstruction—characterized by urbanization and social upheaval—that followed the American Civil War, Frederick Law Olmsted reenvisioned built environments across the nation. This article claims that, for Olmsted and his contemporaries, who were simultaneously curious about, skeptical of, and fearful of the new cities, his designs attempted to show the democratic potential of urban environments. Reading his speeches and essays alongside his designs, it suggests that Olmsted promised the new cities and their parks and parkways as sites of democratic inclusion and democratic virtue. These built environments, as material rhetorics shaping our everyday, pedestrian habits, cultivated a specific practice of citizenship, one that was, this article argues, characterized by a countercultural temporality, pedestrian mobility, recreation, and civic scopophilia. Today, we inherit the parks and cityscapes that Olmsted designed as well as their aspirations for democratic citizenship.

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