Fredrick Law Olmsted A Clearing in the Distance

Fredrick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century

 An urban place making designer before his time.

FLO Clearing in the DistanceFor us schooled in the land use planning profession, especially those educated in the Midwest, two names have special meaning – Daniel Burnham and Fredrick Law Olmsted.

Burnham and his 1909 Plan of Chicago always seem to take center stage.

But Olmsted’s contribution to Chicago and Detroit among other Midwest cities is equally noteworthy.

Olmsted, labeled the father of Landscape Architecture, is credited with bringing parks and natural areas into the American planned landscape that city planners envision.

While best known for New York’s Central Park, Olmsted gave us Belle Isle in Detroit, Jackson Park and the Midway Pleasance in Chicago, and the Louisville Kentucky Parks and Parkway system in addition to spearheading the national park system movement of the late 1880’s.

Witold Rybczynski’s biography of Olmsted is a must reading for up and coming planners and landscape architects.

The “take away” from this reading is an appreciation of Olmsted’s understanding of “natural environment place making” the ability to use a natural environment, a park or other landscape area to contribute to the overall cityscape development pattern and influence the day-today living environment of city residents.

Today, Olmsted would be classified, not only a landscape architect, but a “urban place making designer” championing the notion of creating places to attract people and offer a respect from the built environment with stretches of trees, water features, meadows and grassed turf areas as “collective people places”.

He was truly “America’s park maker”.

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