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Part 2 of 10: City Beautiful

The City Beautiful Movement was an important catalyst in the creation of Utica's park system.

Utica Park (later renamed Forest Park), one of two fee-charging parks in late-nineteenth, early twentieth-century Utica, was located off of Bleecker Street, not far from what would become F. T. Proctor Park in 1914.

As in the great city to its southeast, the population of Utica grew rapidly and became more densely housed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and Uticans were living further and further from nature.  In addition, more and more Uticans were poor industrial workers, mostly immigrants who worked 10-12 hours a day, very often 6 days a week.

Venturing out to the Adirondack Mountains wasn't an option for such Uticans.  The best option many had, beginning in the late 1800s, was to expend much time and money taking a streetcar—or walking many miles— to a private park like Summit Park in Oriskany or Utica Park (later renamed Forest Park) in East Utica.  For many, even this wasn't an option because they simply didn't have the time, energy, or (most of all) disposable income for such extravagances.

Many wealthy Uticans accepted the plight of Utica's mill workers as an unavoidable fact of life.  However, some, like the Proctor family and elements of the Utica Chamber of Commerce, were increasingly concerned.  Influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, they contended that Utica needed a modern public parks system—something like Manhattan's Central Park.

The City Beautiful Movement believed that, even in a small industrial city, working-class neighborhoods were becoming so crowded as to make living in them unhealthy.  Fresh air wasn't abundant, and children didn't have appropriate places to play in such neighborhoods.  Congestion, the lack of fresh air and beautiful trees, and the inability to engage with nature were considered underlying causes of not just ill health, but an unhealthy society characterized by social division, crime, and vice.  Late nineteenth and early twentieth century America was a society undergoing dramatic socioeconomic and cultural change--industrialization and the ongoing influx of millions of immigrants--and Utica was representative of those changes and the challenges they posed.

City Beautiful believed that a beautiful city would have a civilizing impact on all of its citizens and that this would help to create more social stability and safeguard American democracy.  The movement therefore called for public monuments, majestic public buildings, large urban parks, and tree-lined boulevards that would "uplift" the urban poor, many of whom were also immigrants that many Americans feared were not becoming integrated into American society. 

In addition, worldly people like the Proctors, who traveled widely, wanted to be able to point proudly to their hometown as a model city--they wanted Utica to be a showcase of gracious, progressive urban living.