In 1883, the Minneapolis Park Board commissioned Horace Cleveland to develop a system of parks. Cleveland delivered more than lines on a map. He urged Minneapolitans to recognize the important roles that aesthetics and environment played in developing a successful city. This became part of a foundational ethos for civic leaders and social reformers who worked to cultivate an identity for Minneapolis as a beautiful city that would, by design, evade the slums and overcrowding of older cities and to set it apart from all others.
The collaboration between Cleveland and the Park Board was but one project of middle- and upper-class civic leaders and social reformers who positioned themselves as stewards of the city’s social and physical development. Though their motivations occasionally diverged, they shared the same goal: to help Minneapolis avoid the perils of urbanization and make it a model metropolis. Combining programming with environmental interventions, they targeted workplaces, homes, schools, sites of consumption and leisure, and city parks. Using studies on contemporary conditions produced by civic leaders and social reformers, personal papers, and plans for civic space, this dissertation examines the sites social reformers and civic leaders targeted and the ways that they sought to reform the people by re-forming the city.
This dissertation examines both physical and ideological developments in the process of city formation in Minneapolis. It situates Minneapolis as engaged in and contributing to national and international ideologies on labor, education and schools, consumption, leisure and recreation, urban design, and housing. It interrogates how the city’s eastern-born civic leaders and boosters conceptualized an identity for Minneapolis that transcended its location on the edge of the West. Unlike many other municipalities during this time, civic leaders and social reformers attempted to guide rather than control the behavior of the city’s working class. In so doing, they built a network of stewardship that developed programming and redemptive places to entice Minneapolitans away from “deleterious” venues with “base” content and used environmental interventions to reconfigure the city into an uplifting and beautiful place.