The idea for Olmsted 200 was conceived nearly a decade before the bicentennial when Gerry Wright, an early activist around Boston’s Jamaica Pond, asked Betsy Shure Gross, a founding member of the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP), to lunch at a pub in Brookline, MA. They discussed Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday, pondering how to celebrate the momentous occasion. With the aid of Lucy Lawliss and many others, Olmsted 200 was eventually born, with NAOP at the helm to lead founding and celebration partners.
Now, nearly 10 months into 2022, as we begin to close the book on Olmsted 200, NAOP reflects on the campaign’s significant achievements.
From the Emerald Necklace in Boston to Birkenhead Park in England and Hibiya Park in Japan, Olmsted 200 has garnered international attention and exposed thousands of new people to the life, work, and important living legacy of Olmsted.
We are particularly proud of the Olmsted 200 website, which features a national event calendar and lively blog, as well as the popular exhibit— Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscapes for the Public Good— created in tandem with Oak Spring Garden Foundation.
And we can’t forget to mention our tallest effort— “Big Head Fred,” who helped us #CelebrateOlmsted in New York City and Chicago and has since visited Milwaukee, WI, and Riverside, IL— and is on his way to San Francisco, CA, for the American Society of Landscape Architects’ upcoming conference.
The list of campaign highlights could go on forever, so we’ll stick with Betsy Shure Gross’ description from her birthday wishes video. She calls the Olmsted 200 campaign “extraordinary” and hopes it will enhance devotion to Olmsted sites—and parks in general— as we move into the future.
“The real beauty is going to be what happens after the birthday bash,” she said. “To make sure that we end up with lots of new friends…so that we will always have parks that are safe, accessible, well-maintained, and places of respite.”
Throughout 2022, NAOP hosted webinars on behalf of Olmsted 200 to explore timely topics such as public health, climate change, and social justice. These programs allowed us, our partners, and experts in the field to dissect Olmsted’s ideas through a contemporary lens. These conversations made two things emphatically clear— Olmsted’s approach to landscape architecture has withstood the test of time…and we need more public greenspaces!
Alongside public libraries, parks are some of the only free community spaces left. The importance of these spaces is undeniable— particularly in dense, developed cities. Not only do parks and landscapes restore us mentally and physically but they serve a critical ecological function in the face of climate change and provide a truly democratic space in our divided society. However, these places do not appear by accident and need people— like you– to fight and care for them.
So, as we’ve said before, there’s no better way to acknowledge Olmsted’s legacy than to launch another era of expansive public park making and renewal as we celebrate Olmsted’s bicentennial and continue to champion his ideas.
From park restorations to park additions and even park creations in places like New York and Baltimore, we are proud to see communities embrace the Olmsted spirit by expanding open greenspaces and making parks more accessible for all people. It’s exactly what we hoped for— a renewed dedication to parks as a tribute to the living legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted.
In this issue of Field Notes, we are pleased to showcase an array of activities in Olmsted parks and landscapes across the country. While some of these projects are celebratory, many signify a long-term dedication to the parks and landscapes that make communities livable.
Although Olmsted 200 will conclude in 2022, the National Association for Olmsted Parks remains dedicated to championing Olmsted’s landscapes and visionary ideas. As NAOP moves forward into 2023, we do so with a renewed sense of self and a fresh perspective. Our important work is far from over!
Victoria Vanhuss is the Communication Manager for the National Association for Olmsted Parks, the managing partner of Olmsted 200.