Radical Manifest Destiny: Mapping Power over Urban Green Space in the Age of Protest, 1968-1988

Kera N Lovell, Purdue University


My dissertation traces how conflicts concerning power over green space in the urban realm sparked a pattern of insurgent park creation as a form of political placemaking in the late Cold War era. While urban and environmental historians and spatial studies scholars have illuminated how cities became the context of political disputes over power and space in the twentieth century, my work sheds light on radical, community-driven environmental design as a method of protest between the late 1960s and late 1980s. While focused on a handful of central case studies across the U.S., my work situates them within a disconnected network of more than forty activist “People’s Parks,” created illegally on vacant lots as civil disobedience tactics. Using critical theory on gender, race, and urban space to frame my archival research and oral history interviews, my analysis reveals how activist-created green spaces were not only sites of coalitional resistance but mediums for critiquing structural inequality. Linking the right to free speech with freedom from police brutality, urban renewal, and colonialism, park creators positioned the basic components of these spaces—landscape design, public feasts, and art—as valuable labor, performances of political theater, and public consciousness raising. The visual, material, and performative culture of People’s Parks united different communities through the shared goal of asserting power by claiming and creating urban green space. Their popularity and wide reach illuminate an important yet undocumented political shift in the late Cold War era in which demands for spatial citizenship intersected with cultural activism.




Gabin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American studies|History

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