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Olmsted Now Earns The Trustees’ Charles Eliot Award

Olmsted Now

| 4 min read

In November 2022, Olmsted Now was recognized by The Trustees, the nation’s oldest land conservation nonprofit, with its prestigious annual award for Conservationist of the Year.

From The Trustees’ press release (read the full release here):

“‘Olmsted Now is one of the most innovative examples we have seen during the 2022 Olmsted Bicentennial Celebration. It is an initiative that has successfully capitalized on Olmsted’s 19th Century legacy and vision for public parks as fundamental ingredients in the vitality of daily life in our communities as a springboard to foster relevant and important 21st Century civic dialog and action that champions community engagement in our treasured green spaces,’ said Trustees Interim President and CEO Nicie Panetta. ‘Our founder Charles Eliot, a protégé of Frederick Law Olmsted, would be proud of the remarkable work Olmsted Now has achieved in catalyzing partners, leaders, and communities around a shared movement to elevate Boston’s parks as places of relevance, beauty, inclusion, and equity for all.’

Jen Mergel of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy accepted the award on behalf of the project, which was designed to meet this post-pandemic moment to reflect Boston’s diversity and center neighborhood voices.

‘Rather than a physical conservation project, Olmsted Now sought to conserve and renew community connection,’ Mergel said. ‘We poured energy into what Olmsted cared most about: the potential of greenspace to connect, uplift and empower people when they need it most. He believed increasing access to common ground could reinforce our common humanity–it could break down silos, heal divisions and reunite us.’

Initiated through monthly listening sessions in February 2020, Olmsted Now established a Committee of Neighborhoods to conceive and lead the bicentennial’s signature program: Parks Equity and Spatial Justice projects to ‘expand what is possible’ in Boston greenspace. With $205,000 raised by the Conservancy, the Committee funded 16 BIPOC-led projects that activated 14 Boston neighborhoods from July through November to test what Olmsted Now values–’shared use, shared health and shared power in parks and public space’–could mean for Boston in 2022 and beyond. This work was part of over 200 programs offered by a coalition of 145 partners, and complemented by online public dialogues and monthly events along the Emerald Necklace centered in listening and partnership, using the parks as platform.

Conservancy President Karen Mauney-Brodek credited the initiative to Olmsted’s own idea of parks as places to ‘come together, and be seen coming together,’ saying ‘This was our opportunity to bring his idea forward in a truly community-led way that expanded cultural perspectives on land stewardship. We are gratified and inspired that this resonates with The Trustees here in the Commonwealth, and nationally.’

Jason Newman, superintendent of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, said despite the passage of 200 years, Olmsted’s work has never been more relevant.

‘Olmsted Now emphasizes Frederick Law Olmsted’s dedication to greenspaces that are based in ‘equity and benevolence.’ Throughout the past few years of a global pandemic, political discord, and social justice reckonings, we continue to see the significance and relevance of Olmsted’s beliefs and practices in the democratic right to open space; where parks continue to provide a critical role in helping mental, physical, and social health of communities,’ Newman said. ‘Olmsted, and his partner Charles Eliot, offered impassioned appeals for the right of shared stewardship of these places and we are honored to be recognized for our shared work in continuing this legacy.'”

Accepting the Charles Eliot Award on behalf of Olmsted Now, Jen Mergel stated “Olmsted designed parks for a purpose: for people to be their best selves. To better connect with their health, their spirit, with nature and with each other. Olmsted wrote how time spent in a public park could animate local citizens ‘with a common purpose, not at all intellectual, competitive with none, disposing to jealousy and spiritual or intellectual pride toward none, each individual adding by his mere presence to the pleasure of all others, all helping to the greater happiness of each.’

“He thought this big because he had to, He worked at a tipping point in American history, before and after the Civil War, as his nation grappled with deep political division, as the nation’s capitals transformed from more rural to more urban, as pandemics infiltrated crowded neighborhoods and new science emerged on the value of sanitary climate to our health. Olmsted was of his time and ahead of his time. He knew collaboration across disciplines was the key to transforming the ideal of American democracy into a reality. Now, more than ever, at this political and public health moment, we need to keep working toward Olmsted’s vision.”

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