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Who is Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.?
For more than half a century, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870–1957) was one of America’s preeminent landscape architects who pioneered comprehensive planning and played a critical role in forming the nation’s county, state, and national parks. A founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Olmsted Jr. wrote the key language that established the National Park Service and for 30 years advised the Park Service on the management and conservation of water and scenic resources. A member of the McMillan Commission, Olmsted Jr. helped develop the McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C., and guided its execution.

The legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. is frequently overshadowed by his influential father, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), the founder of the profession of landscape architecture in the United States. The National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP) and its partners are proud to present the two symposia, which will focus on the contributions and legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and raise the visibility of his contemporary relevance.

What are the key accomplishments of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.?

A timeline of Olmsted Jr.'s major accomplishments is available here: pdf_icon4

As bearer of the most renowned name in landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was chosen for positions of prominence from the very start of his career. In 1899 he became a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and served twice as its president (1908–1909 and 1919–1923). The following year he was appointed instructor in landscape architecture at Harvard, where he helped create the country’s first university course in the profession.

In 1901 he was selected as a member of the Senate Park Commission for the Improvement of the District of Columbia, commonly known as the McMillan Commission. Charged with interpreting Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 vision of the nation’s capital for the twentieth century, Olmsted Jr. worked to transform Washington into a work of civic art and devise a comprehensive plan for its future development. For decades, Olmsted Jr. promoted and helped implement the McMillan Plan, serving on the two federal oversight bodies for planning in the capital city: the Commission of Fine Arts (1910–1918) and the National Capital Park Planning Commission (1926–1932). As either adviser or designer, he worked on many prominent Washington landmarks, including the White House grounds, the Federal Triangle, the Jefferson Memorial, Roosevelt Island, Rock Creek Parkway, and the National Cathedral grounds.

Olmsted Jr. produced planning reports for Detroit, Utica, Boulder, Pittsburgh, New Haven, Rochester, and Newport. He also applied the emerging principles of comprehensive planning to suburban settings, creating master plans for new sections of Roland Park, a Baltimore suburb; Forest Hills Gardens, a model garden community outside of New York City; the industrial town of Torrance, California (largely unrealized); Palos Verdes Estates, California; and Mountain Lake Community in Lake Wales, Florida. Many of the features of his suburban plans have had enduring influence, including the concept of neighborhood-centered development, the differentiation of streets by function, the importance of common open and recreational spaces, and the need for continuing maintenance and aesthetic oversight to preserve the quality of the community.

In 1910, Olmsted Jr. led the first organization of the nascent planning profession, the National Conference on City Planning, and helped to lay the theoretical foundation for the new discipline. In 1917, he was instrumental in organizing the American City Planning Institute, a professional society for planning practitioners (now the American Planning Association), and he was elected its first president.

In the latter part of his career Olmsted Jr. devoted much of his time to public service, consulting on issues involving the conservation and preservation of the country’s state and national park and remaining wilderness areas. The key language in the 1916 bill that established the National Park Service, setting aside park lands for all time as places protected from development and preserved for human enjoyment, was Olmsted Jr.’s. For thirty years, he advised the National Park Service on issues of management and the conservation of water and scenic resources. He left his mark on national parks from coast to coast, including Maine’s Acadia National Park, the Florida Everglades, and Yosemite National Park. In 1928 he prepared a guide for the selection and acquisition of land for the California park system, which became a model for other states. Olmsted Jr. also devised a master plan for saving the California redwoods.

Who should attend the symposium?
The event is designed for practitioners, historians, public agencies, instructors, students, elected officials, and the public with an interest in: transportation; regional and metropolitan planning; environmental planning; history; urban planning; natural resources conservation; historic preservation; park management; architecture; and landscape architecture and design.

Why should I attend the symposium?
The trends and issues that are driving debate across the industry today (i.e., urban design, provision of public space, transportation, protection of land, water and scenic resources, and comprehensive regional planning) were also important issues that Olmsted Jr. addressed through his work with and leadership of the planning and design professions he helped found and nurture. The symposium will provide attendees with greater awareness of Olmsted Jr.’s legacy to widen their understanding of broad-based planning and sustainable development issues in the 20th century that continue to be relevant today. The two events will illuminate Olmsted Jr.’s work and how his visionary thinking, politically shrewd leadership, and large-scale, collaborative planning and decision-making models can offer insights for solving complex contemporary challenges in landscape architecture, preservation, and planning.

Will each symposium simply be a review of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s work? Is there going to be anything “new” discussed?
The two events will be the most comprehensive presentation to date of the full scope of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s lasting legacy. For the first time, participants will explore how Olmsted Jr.’s designs, writings and organizational leadership offer insights and models for solving complex contemporary issues. The symposium will illuminate how Olmsted Jr.’s visionary thinking, politically shrewd leadership, and large-scale, collaborative planning and decision-making models can offer insights for solving complex contemporary challenges in landscape architecture, preservation, and planning.

In addition to presentations and panel discussions, published proceedings and online posting of recorded sessions will provide historical background of current issues; advance scholarly and public understanding; support professional practice; and further explore Olmsted Jr.’s lasting influence.

Why are you having the symposium now?
Through a variety of collaborations in recent years with public agencies, private and non-profit partners, it became evident to NAOP that there is a lack of meaningful reference materials devoted to the work of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. A symposium dedicated to his legacy is not only timely, but also is a strategic way to bring together key thought leaders in relevant fields to explore his work and its contemporary applications.

The trends and issues that are driving debate across the industry today (i.e., urban design, provision of public space, transportation, protection of land, water and scenic resources, and comprehensive regional planning) were also important issues Olmsted Jr. addressed through his work with and leadership of the planning and design professions he helped found and nurture. However, we still lack the resources to fully reference and apply his vision and solutions to current and future challenges.

This lack of comprehensive and accessible information on the rich yet under-represented legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., combined with its direct relevance in such contemporary areas as planning for sustainable cities and communities, “green infrastructure”, and the adaptability of urban, state and national park systems, set the stage for the Symposia. The time is right to bring together industry thought leaders to explore the legacy and relevance of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and, as a result, influence the development of useful materials, spur additional research, and offer insights for solving complex contemporary issues.

What is the difference between the two symposia? Why should I attend both?
Each event will explore the contemporary relevance of Olmsted Jr.’s work, but will take a different approach to its modern application. The Washington, D.C. event, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century, on Oct. 10–11, 2013, will explore how today’s industry leaders can find inspiration and guidance to address contemporary issues in park systems and provision of public space, as well as city, regional and metropolitan planning. The Stanford University event, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: A Vision for the American West, on March 27–28, 2014, will expand this discussion to incorporate issues specific to the American West, including land and water conservation, state and regional parks systems, and protecting the region’s unique environmental resources.

Will I earn continuing education credits?
Yes, continuing education credits are earned as follows: 8.0 LU HSW (AIA); 8.0 CM (AICP); and 8.0 LA CES (ASLA) for each event.

Where can I learn more about Olmsted Jr.? Are there existing resources I can access?
The National Association for Olmsted Parks’ website, www.olmsted.org, includes links and guidance about where to go for additional information. Presentations from the symposium will be made available online following the events. To get started, we recommend the following:

Books and Publications:

  • The Master List of Design Projects of the Olmsted Firm 1857–1979, published by National Association for Olmsted Parks and the National Park Service, (2007).  Edited by Lucy Lawliss, Caroline Loughlin and Lauren Meier.
  • The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917 (2003). Jon A. Peterson.

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s Work in Washington, D.C.

Projects of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.:

Video:

The Enduring Design Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in the Nation's Capital. From: Power, Architecture, and Politics: The Design of Washington and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts Symposium, presented by: Arleyn Levee, landscape historian and preservation consultant, May 19, 2010. Click here for more information.