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Frederick Law Olmstead, Sr.

Here’s a quiz question for you: What landscape architect, journalist, and conservationist designed parks that zigzag across North America from Milwaukee to Montreal, Boston to Baltimore, Seattle to Staten Island, and hundreds of points in between, and whose 200th birthday is in 2022? If you answered Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. you are correct.

Because this year marks that birthday, parks, estates, and more designed by Olmsted and his successor firms are celebrating. The Cultural Landscape Foundation has a guide to these sites that can be explored in-person or from afar

Born in 1822 and known as the father of American landscape architecture, he may have more to do with the way America looks than anyone else. In 1857 Olmsted designed New York City’s Central Park, he created designs for thousands of landscapes and many of the world’s most important parks. In Washington, D.C., he designed the grounds of the US Capitol and the White House; in Chicago, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Jackson Park.

And my hometown of Riverside, IL. Along with Calvert Vaux, Olmsted Designed Riverside using many of the same techniques that he used when designing parks, using curving streets and abundant green space to give the town a tranquil feeling. On April 23rd the town held a tree planting on one of Riversides hills overlooking the Des Plaines River.

Because so many green spaces are influenced by Olmsted, it is important to note some of his lessons:

  1. Respect “the genius of a place”. In other words, stay true to the character of natural surrounds.
  2.  Subordinate details to the whole, or don’t create a lot of individual elements.
  3. Aim for the unconscious; parks should produce relaxation.
  4. Avoid fashion for fashion’s sake.
  5. Formal training isn’t required; his views developed from travelling and reading.
  6. Stand for something; don’t just make pretty, green spaces, democratize nature and contribute to people’s health.

Take time to explore Olmstead’s contributions this year.