America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, along with Joseph Ellicott who preceded him, gave Buffalo the form and face that endure today. By designing an industrial Buffalo’s future 150 years ago, Olmsted should inspire our efforts today to design an innovative future Buffalo, and for the same reason: to win the race for relevance.
We should also recognize the Buffalo business and government leaders who worked together to commission Olmsted and provide the land and labor needed to construct his magnificent vision of a free, public system of parks, parkways and circles.
These community leaders followed the example of their predecessors who had commissioned Ellicott two generations earlier to lay out a plan for what was then wilderness at the head of the Niagara River. Ellicott’s plan was a classical grid of roads overlaid with radial avenues. The grid was associated with democracy and commerce, while the radials were associated with centralized power and the heavens. Ellicott described his design as “developed by nature for the grand emporium of the Western world.”
These ideas of commerce, culture and nature were on the minds of the Buffalo leaders who brought Olmsted here in 1868, following the trauma of the Civil War, to attract capital investment and labor to make Buffalo a great city. Olmsted’s plan embraced and extended Ellicott’s design and featured nature as a healing element. The Buffalo park system he created offered immersive natural experience in free public parks. Buffalo business leaders were pleased, stating in 1872, “This park is for the people, for the masses of the people.”
Today, Buffalo business and governmental leaders are once again working together. A particularly good example of this is 43North, an organization they created to attract investment and human resources to foster creative, high-growth startups.
May today’s efforts aspire to match Olmsted’s interweaving of commerce, culture and nature to benefit everyone by helping to make Buffalo a burgeoning innovative tech city made livable in today’s race for relevance.
Clinton Brown’s recent book is “Olmsted’s Elmwood: The Rise, Decline and Renewal of Buffalo’s Parkway Neighborhood, A Model for America’s Cities.”
*This article was originally posted by The Buffalo News here.