June 14, 2012

The Emerald Neclace

Frederick L. Olmsted
 My alarm goes off and I get myself ready, hop on my bike, and head out the door of my apartment located in a little area of South Boston called Thomas Park, I Bike about 4 miles to my destination, my place of work in Brookline Massachusetts.  On my morning commute I pass numerous buildings, restaurants,houses, and shops, but the very last stretch of my ride is my favorite. This last stretch is when I peddle through Olmsted Park, where I stop and lock up my bike before heading to work, located right across the street from this park.  Every day is something new, whether its a new bird, or meeting new people who are out on a morning run or out walking there dogs before work,  or a tree that has sprouted new growth making the park a visual masterpiece.  I treasure this part of my day so I thought I would share it with you. Lately, I have been thinking about who created this little piece of heaven right in the middle of the city and after doing a little research I found out this park is one of many, including Central Park in New York, designed by a man named Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).  Having died over a century ago, he is far from a household name.  Despite this, his influence remains wide in the United States. Olmsted is the father of landscape architecture.  He was born in Hartford Connecticut and attended Yale (before dropping out due to an eye ailment), he spent considerable time in his early adult life on Staten Island when his family purchased a farm for him in 1948.  When his farming experiment failed, he began traveling in Europe and the American South.  Before taking a stab at architecture he worked as a seaman, a journalist, and a social reformer. In Landscape Architecture, he combined his interest in rural life with a sense of democratic idealism to create a kind of civil engineering that synthesized function and beauty. Olmsted's winning design for the Central Park competition was done with Calvert Vaux, an English architect who had also been A.J. Downing's partner.  Olmsted set up a prosperous firm which designed some 50 public parks and 550 other commissions, many of them gardens and residential projects. Olmsted's style drew from Downing, from natural scenery, from numerous visits to European parks, and from reading landscape and garden theorists, including Gilpin, Price, Loudon, and Repton.   
Olmsted's concept of beauty in design is amazing.  This can be seen in all his works, to name a few, Arnold Arboretum, Back Bay FensBelle Isle, Boston's Emerald Necklace (which I will explain in greater detail), Buffalo New York, Central Park, Druid Hills in Atlanta GA, Franklin Park, Grounds of the US Capital, Jamaica Pond, Mount Royal in Montreal Quebec, Muddy Rivers Link, Niagara Falls State Reservation, Prospect Park, The Biltmore, and The Colombian Exchange.  Every morning I get to enjoy a piece of the Emerald Necklace. It took Olmsted almost twenty years (1878-1896) to create the six parks and waterways known as the Emerald Necklace

The Emerald Necklace
 These parks reach from Boston to Brookline, Massachusetts, including the Boston Commons, Boston Public Garden, the eponymous Olmsted Park,

A picture of Olmsted Park that I took last fall on my way to work

Another picture of Olmsted's Park that I took last fall on my way to work
and the Arnold Arboretum. Olmsted originally designed the project in 1878 to link the Boston Common to Franklin Park, and by doing so clean up the marshy in between areas of Back Bay and Fens near Boston.  The chain of parks which constitute a long series of walking paths along the water is now seven miles long, with a significant portion of the water that occupied Back Bay redirected into the Charles River.  The Arnold Arboretum is a great example of the care Olmsted took in designing his parks, rather than flattening the landscape and ensuring orderly paths, he created them around the existing plant life, making an amazing exhibit out of what was already there. Olmsted was also a talented Botanist and helped classify and arrange some of the plants in the park with the new classification system created by Bentham and Hooker
The Emerald Necklace is the only remaining intact linear park designed by Olmsted, Americas first landscape architect.  It is listed on the national register of historic places.  Green and open spaces, rivers and ponds, a wealth and diversity of trees, shrubs, flowers, wildlife, bridges and other structures make up this urban jewel.

References: http://www.newbedford.com/olmsted.html#works, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olmsted_Park, http://www.nps.gov/frla/index.htm

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