Olmsted designed public places where people come together[1] in unity and healing.

Now, the power to shape future public places belongs to each of us.

Greater Boston’s Olmsted Bicentennial is an invitation to shape public places for the next generation. Through a shared, yearlong platform of big ideas and bold actions, join us in building an equitable, vibrant, and verdant city.

Crowds gather along Jamaica Pond to experience the fog sculpture in the exhibition Fog x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace (2018). Photo credit: Jen Mergel

FLONOW, Greater Boston’s Olmsted Bicentennial, is an urgent opportunity to build an inclusive coalition of civic, public, and community partners all of whom have a stake in the future of public places.

Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) would have turned 200 on April 26, 2022. A great deal has changed in the centuries since his birth. Yet many of the ideas that drove Olmsted’s work remain relevant today: from fostering civic dialogue to building healthy environments.

FLONOW, a yearlong program launching in 2022, is a time to collectively grapple with what public places will mean for the next generation. It is 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 equitable, vibrant, and verdant places together.

In the spirit of sharing power, FLONOW seeks to work in solidarity with the diverse communities who already enjoy Olmsted landscapes, and to actively expand access to them. The governance model of the Bicentennial is also being shaped with an explicitly inclusive agenda, welcoming communities and individuals—youth, elders, activists, neighborhood advocates, artists, and those who have felt shut out from positions of power.

The Bicentennial planning process explores Olmsted’s legacy, while acknowledging the prior cultures, who for millennia, have been stewarding and shaping Boston’s lands and waters long before him. We honor this shared history.

Partners

FLONOW is co-organized by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Fairsted, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. They continue to welcome planning partners, including (as of October 2020):  

  • Boston Parks and Recreation
  • Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Brookline Parks and Open Space
  • National Association for Olmsted Parks

NOW:How can we equitably share the benefits of public places? Join us.

Ranger with students as part of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site’s award-winning education program, Good Neighbors: Landscape Design and Community Building. Photo credit: National Park Service/Joel Veak

Adapted from the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Olmsted moved his family to the Greater Boston neighborhood of Brookline, MA, settling at 99 Warren Street, which he would call Fairsted. From Fairsted, he built an active professional practice and supervised work along the Emerald Necklace—arguably, his most ambitious public project. More than a million visitors a year use this remarkable green space, which still connects people and nature, just as Olmsted intended more than a century ago.

The drafting room of the United State’s first full-scale landscape architecture firm, at the property Olmsted called “Fairsted.” Photo credit: National Park Service/ Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Fairsted too continues to serve its intended purpose—a place for inquiry and scholarship, always in the public interest. Fairsted is one of the most widely researched museum collections in the National Park System, containing over 1,000,000 historic documents. Park and city planners from across the United States use these records each year to rehabilitate and rebuild many of the nation’s most significant and beloved landscapes to the lasting benefit of millions of people. Historians, students, and preservation planners use the collection to document historic areas and to produce exhibits, films and scholarly publications.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (1822-1903) c. 1860-62, just as The Cotton Kingdom is published in 1861 and the Civil War commences. Courtesy of National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Adapted from the Emerald Necklace Conservancy

People from every walk of life encounter the legacy of more than 5,000 projects that Frederick Law Olmsted and his successor firm designed across 45 states and several countries. When they step into an Olmsted park or street or suburb, people 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.” As sites of recreation and relief, cultural life and natural beauty, of coming together in joy or protest, these places remain the setting for the complex life of our imperfect civilization.

Harvard scholar Sara Zewde introduces how Olmsted’s methods of social research to write The Cotton Kingdom not only informed his visionary landscape practice, but can critically guide today’s practitioners. Image courtesy of Sara Zewde/Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Olmsted had many careers: farmer, journalist, manager of public and private projects, author. He co-founded The Nation magazine and during the Civil War, headed the predecessor of the American Red Cross. His ideas were largely shaped by early travels across the antebellum South, in the years right before the Civil War. What was initially intended to be a qualitative study of agricultural landscapes became The Cotton Kingdom, a multi-volume, economic and moral argument for abolition. When Olmsted named slavery as the “present crisis” of the United States, he was taking a firm side in the foremost national debates of his time—and in his later life as famed landscape architect and urban planner, trying to incorporate those values into his designs. Along with Boston’s Emerald Necklace, his significant projects included New York’s Central Park and Prospect Parks, and the U.S. Capitol Grounds. He helped codify the profession of landscape architecture, preserve vast tracts of wilderness, plan early suburbs, and launch scientific forestry in the U.S.


Olmsted 200

Greater Boston’s Olmsted Bicentennial is a proud part of a national effort

Emerald Necklace Conservancy
350 Jamaicaway, Boston, MA 02130
(617) 522-2700

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
99 Warren Street, Brookline, MA 02445
(617) 566-1689

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