Rapid growth left Boston so polluted that the city released a map of offensive odors.[7] Olmsted hid a sewage system in a park, still in use today: a place to heal people and nature.

Olmsted’s believed parks could provide men, women and children in dense tenements with total health—cleaner water and joyful views yes, but also nourishing food, and even physical exercise. On the Charles River landfill, he designed Charlesbank with the world’s first open-air gymnasiums freely accessible in public parks. This view (possibly 1891) shows the children’s swings and ladders, open turf ringed by a running track, and the lamp-lit promenade beyond the hedges. Courtesy of National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

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.

View under the Bowker Overpass of the proposed renovation of Charlesgate, which Olmsted designed to connect the waters of the Back Bay Fens to the Charles River. Rendering courtesy of Landing Studio.

NOW:A citizen-led effort to restore ecological infrastructure, water quality, and pedestrian access at Charlesgate is underway.
Learn how you can contribute.

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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