Adapted from “Olmsted—His Essential Theory” by Charles E. Beveridge
When in later years Olmsted described the process by which he wished his landscape designs to have their effect, he observed that some landscape features, plants, or flowers “may have had a more soothing and refreshing sanitary influence.” The emphasis on the “sanitary” reflected his desire to produce an effect on the whole human organism. He believed that such service to human needs, and not simply the creation of decoration, should be primary. “Service must precede art,” he declared.
To this day, the Olmstedian idea of nature’s power to serve—to regenerate, soothe, heal—endures in many forms. Today, designers and city planners draw from these early examples of environmental resilience to create landscapes that mitigate flooding or reduce extreme heat in urban neighborhoods. Green spaces have been shown to have profound public health effects from lowering obesity to alleviating anxiety. Along the Muddy River which bisects the Emerald Necklace, contemporary parkgoers jog, cycle, practice Tai Chi, or simply pause to find a tranquil moment in the midst of a chaotic city.