Doctor of Philosophy
Roger D. Simon
This dissertation examines how Brooklyn's upper-class used a specific ideology to transform physical, social, and cultural space in the city. Antebellum merchants and bankers presented Brooklyn as an alternative model of urban development, free from the problems of urban life that wealthy Brooklynites had experienced firsthand in New York City. This rhetoric had a determinative effect on the physical and social fabric of the city. The elites who designed and maintained Brooklyn Heights, Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park, and Brooklyn's ferry system created those spaces to confirm and publicize their idealized vision of controlled development, a socially homogeneous population, and an adherence to strict Protestant values. However, wealthy merchants and bankers also sought profit amidst Brooklyn's growth. As a result, they invested heavily in economic development throughout the city which ultimately compromised their vision of the city. As Brooklyn urbanized by the middle of the century, the fiction of Brooklyn's exceptionalism became more difficult to maintain because of the increasing numbers of immigrants, the rise of a powerful political machine, and the physical expansion of Brooklyn. The emergence of a competing upper class in Park Slope, whose wealth was based in retail, industry, and manufacturing, further challenged the older vision of Brooklyn. These new elites believed the key to Brooklyn's future prosperity was continued growth and development. The conflict between those two groups played out over the last quarter of the nineteenth century and culminated in Brooklyn's absorption into Greater New York in 1898.
This project challenges the existing literature's focus upon the economic and political roles the upper class played in American cities. By emphasizing ideology and its effects on physical and social space, this dissertation firmly grounds the upper class in the physical and social environments of the city. It illuminates the way in which ideological commitments shape the urban environment and contribute to the shaping of a class identity.
Britton, Joshua Aaron, "Building a "City of Churches and Homes": Elites, Space, and Power in Brooklyn" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 5636.
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