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Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822-1903
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  1. Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822-1903 • Tomorrow, after lunch, we will be visiting the Back Bay Fens, a portion of the “Emerald Necklace” of parks created for the city of Boston by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880's. • Olmsted is often cited as the founder of American landscape architecture and a key contributor to the physical layout and life of many American cities. • Almost forgotten 50 years ago – his vision is relevant again today!

  2. A long, varied life • Born in Hartford, CT; lived in various country towns after death of his mother; never formally schooled • Hoped to attend Yale, but a bad case of sumac poisoning compromised his eyesight and doctors advised postponing formal study – he never went back • Sailed on voyages to China and Europe in the 1850's – much taken with English landscapes

  3. Olmsted's life, continued • In the later 1850's he made a reputation as a writer – best known work probably The Cotton Kingdom – an account of travels through the antebellum American South – described the effects of slavery-based cotton plantation economy on the people and the landscape; a strong anti-slavery message. • 1857 – appointed Superintendent of projected Central Park in New York (no experience with parks; and Central Park didn't exist yet!)

  4. Life, continued • In collaboration with Calvert Vaux, Olmsted created a design for Central Park and oversaw its realization “off and on” over the next 20 or so years. • During the Civil War, he served for a time as head of U.S. Sanitary Commission (precursor of American Red Cross) – ran Union military hospitals, etc.

  5. A Calling Found • After the Civil War, returned to landscape architecture – devoted rest of his life • Planned and executed parks, college campuses, public spaces all over the U.S. • Some other well (and not so well) known work: • Prospect Park in Brooklyn • Bushnell Park in Hartford • Capitol grounds in Washington D.C. • Campuses of Stanford, Wellesley, Yale, … • Elm Park in Worcester(!)

  6. Later Work • Toward the end of his life, Olmsted founded a landscape architecture firm, continued by his sons and heirs (lasted until 1980!) • Worked on Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC (one of the Vanderbilt family mansions) • Involved in design of 1893 Columbian Exposition fair grounds in Chicago • Retired in 1898, but suffered a mental breakdown immediately thereafter and died in Maclean Hospital in Belmont, MA (he had designed the grounds years before)

  7. Olmsted's Philosophy • 1850's – older American cities like New York, Boston were pretty awful places (very densely built up but no planning, inadequate sanitation, growing manufacturing areas, etc.) • The more aesthetically pleasing you make a city, the more people will want to live in that city, and the happier they will be • The way to make cities more aesthetically pleasing is to bring aspects of the country into them – “natural” landscapes, vegetation, views – the “City Beautiful”

  8. Central Park in New York • Overall view from north end:

  9. Central Park • Grand formal spaces

  10. Central Park • Together with almost rural areas

  11. Elm Park in Worcester

  12. Effects of a Good City Park • Gives everyone in the city's population (rich and poor alike) a “pleasure ground” (Olmsted's phrase) for quiet contemplation of nature, activities like walking, running, other sports, … • Trees, other vegetation can serve to minimize effects of air pollution. • Open space improves quality of life and makes higher population density options like multi-story apartment buildings bearable.

  13. Urban Life • Cities are much preferable to suburban “sprawl” from environmental perspective! • Lower environmental impact • Economies of scale • Less need for automobiles for transportation; easier to provide public transportation • We lost sight of this in the US from 1945 to the 1970's, but Olmsted's vision is coming back! • Maybe recapturing his vision for cities will be a component of “collapse avoidance(!)”

  14. The “New Urbanism” • A “new” (i.e. old!) vision of how cities can work and improve the quality of life for all -- • 1. Walkability: Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work; pedestrian friendly street design • 2. Mixed use/Diversity: Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings; Diversity of people - of ages, income levels, cultures, and races

  15. New Urbanism, continued • 3. Quality Architecture & Urban Design: Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit/quality of life

  16. New Urbanism, continued • 4. Traditional Neighborhood Structure: Discernable center and edge, public space at center, importance of quality public realm. • 5. “Transect” planning – integrates environmental thinking for habitat assessment with zoning for community design – boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to assess the design of the human habitat and urbanists to support the viability of nature.

  17. New Urbanism • 6. Increased Density – More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, more efficient services • 7. Smarter transportation – public, electric, rail options • 8. Sustainability