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Happy 190th birthday, Frederick.

April 26, 2012

It’s National Landscape Architecture month (NLAM) and today marks the 190th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted. I’m sure you’ve heard the name Olmsted over and over; he is constantly celebrated as a designer and the grandfather of landscape architecture. But, all you have to do to understand why he still receives so many accolades is step into any of the parks he designed–Central Park, Prospect Park, the Emerald Necklace, or numerous others–and you will feel it.

Olmsted designed an experience. Every time I’m in New York, I think Central Park is just another park, we have those in Boston. But when I walk into it, it just feels different: timeless and somehow wholly separate from the world of the city.

Olmsted created places that equalized the burgeoning urban population in the 1800s as it does today. Anyone can use Central Park; it sits in the middle of a tremendously vibrant, diverse metropolis as a 843-acre public space.

flickr/juntosworldwide

Created as a place for tired city workers, Central Park has become a place for everyone and it is still loved after so many years. When the farmland was set aside as space for a park, Manhattan’s built environment stopped around 23rd street. The city quite literally grew up around the park. Even today, people are still exploring. Ken Chaya and Edward Sibley Barnard recently spent 2.5 years mapping 19,933 trees in the park. You can check out the results here, it’s truly quite amazing.

And so stops my ode to Olmsted. I just leave you with one final thought: with over half the world’s population now living in urban areas, we really need to understand the importance of parks and natural, public spaces in the built environment and to value the work that landscape architects are doing today.

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