Last month in Lake Wales, FL, city leaders voted, 5-0, to approve a visionary plan that adopts design ideas originally conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and philanthropist Edward Bok, whose neighboring Bok Tower Gardens was also designed by Olmsted in the 1930s.  

City leaders have now embraced a design that will not only foster healthy economic growth but ensure residents of all backgrounds and income levels access to a system of parks, trails and greenways; affordable housing; and a variety of outdoor recreational and inspirational experiences.  

As Florida communities struggle with uncontrolled development, this plan shows how thoughtful zoning and planning can produce a thriving community that prioritizes mental and physical well-being and sustainable ecological health. Lake Wales Envisioned looks to a future without conventional sprawl, disconnected streets and front-facing garages. Instead, residents will have walkable communities with tree lined streets in keeping with the original Olmsted plans.   

The vote comes after months of advocacy from numerous local and national supporters. 

On the local level, a documentary by graphic designer and filmmaker Lee Dover informed and powered community engagement. The film utilized hundreds of hours of interviews, thousands of photos and maps, historical records and draft planning documents to tell the story of how Lake Wales citizens are coming together to face modern challenges and chart a better future. Watch the film on YouTube now! 

The Olmsted Network was also front and center. After early support for the plan on social media, we solicited local support via email and published an early and strong endorsement in the local newspaper, Embrace Lake Wales Envisioned: A Model for the Nation. At the public hearing, the Olmsted Network, represented by Olmsted Council Member Lucy Lawliss, offered powerful support for the plans in an endorsement later singled out by the Congress for New Urbanism  

“Design matters – as Olmsted understood 150 years ago,”  OImsted Network president Dede Petri said after the meeting.  “Attention to Olmsted principles can promote equitable access to parks and open space, system-wide planning in the face of climate change, and environmental justice.  We are pleased to be assisting communities to revisit and embrace Olmsted’s design ideas as a way to find greater community and connection in deeply divided times.”   

The Olmsted Network has long partnered with Lake Wales Heritage and nearby Bok Tower Gardens to promote and protect the Olmsted legacy in Lake Wales. We recently highlighted these great partnerships in Conversations with Olmsted: Stewarding Olmsted Parks & Places