2022 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s visionary maker of parks and public places. Through a yearlong platform of big ideas and bold actions, Olmsted Now—Greater Boston’s Olmsted Bicentennial—will shape a shared vision for an equitable, vibrant and verdant city.
Olmsted Now, Greater Boston’s Olmsted Bicentennial, is an urgent opportunity to build an inclusive coalition of civic, non-profit and community partners, all of whom have a stake in the future of parks and public places.
Frederick Law Olmsted would have turned 200 on April 26, 2022. Much has changed in the centuries since his birth. Yet the ideas central to Olmsted’s work are still relevant today: from encouraging social exchange to building healthy environments.
The bicentennial year is a time to collectively grapple with what parks and public places will mean for years to come. It is Greater Boston’s moment to affirm and advance Olmsted’s impact on civic life and public health, engage residents in learning about this common resource and intentionally build resilient and inclusive places together.
Even if you’ve never heard of Olmsted, chances are you’ve met him—while sitting on a park lawn, walking to work or exploring a new neighborhood.
You have likely encountered the legacy of more than 5,000 projects that Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903), his sons, mentees and successors in his Brookline firm designed across 45 states and several countries. Olmsted created the field known as “landscape architecture,” a discipline that continues to shape how people experience and participate in the shared places of cities.
When we step into an Olmsted park, street or neighborhood, we not only enter into a physical space but engage with an idea. Working in an age of urbanization and industrialization, Olmsted saw public places — and parks in particular — as the “self-preserving instinct of civilization.” These shared landscapes continue to serve us as sites of recreation and relief, of cultural life and natural beauty, of coming together and being seen.
VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
Olmsted Now is a coalition-led effort to make parks and public spaces better for all through shared use, shared health and shared power — an ambition that demands honesty and openness. To that end, Olmsted Now is guided by the following values:
Practice makes progress. Olmsted was accomplished but by no means perfect. His work and his views — spanning journalism and abolition, public health and emergency relief, urban planning and natural preservation, art and ultimately landscape architecture — shifted over time. Olmsted Now looks back at this body of work from the perspective of our current moment. Olmsted Now is also a human experiment, a safe space to question and critique with care.
Land stewardship is living wisdom. For millennia before Olmsted’s work, people have been stewarding the lands and waters that now comprise the many parks across Greater Boston. This remains the traditional and unceded territory of the Massachusett tribe, and a site of exchange with the Nipmuc and Wampanoag tribes. It is fundamental to both acknowledge these legacies and actively seek right relations with local Indigenous leaders as a way to re-center understandings of shared open space. This acknowledgement will evolve with shared learning.
“The fierce urgency of now.” Olmsted Now is driven by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 caution against acting too late to correct long-standing injustices. The time is now to explore how Olmsted’s ideals for parks and open space relate to today’s calls for environmental justice and spatial justice. These movements counter disparities in people’s access to healthy environments or freedoms within public space based on race, culture, class, ability or gender identity.
Diverse perspectives strengthen focus. Olmsted valued thinking across professional disciplines and lived experiences. Olmsted Now is likewise a product of multiple voices. It is a platform to prioritize people, process and partnership over the production of big projects. All outreach, internal planning decisions and external programming is guided by an equity agenda that explicitly centers those best positioned to assess and lead impact in communities: neighborhood youth, elders, activists, artists and others who have been shut out from positions of power.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
Parks and public places are where we come together or enjoy solitude. In that spirit, the site’s user-generated content is a reflection of both common purpose and private moments: stories you have generously shared. The many sources, opinions and links aggregated here by Olmsted Now have been reviewed to ensure they advance the values of the Bicentennial; however, contributors retain rights and responsibility for the content provided. Olmsted Now welcomes a robust dialogue in this virtual public space.
“Who drew That?”
Drawings that bring lightness, humor and curiosity to the Olmsted Now website were created by two artists with Boston roots: Ben Jundanian and Duke Riley. Olmsted Now looks forward to working with more local artists in the coming year.
For media inquiries, please contact Edwina A. Klünder