Designing America on Access Utah Monday

Jul 14, 2014

Frederick Law Olmsted video shot
Frederick Law Olmsted made public parks an essential part of American life and forever changed our relationship with public open spaces. A new PBS documentary discusses how he shaped America.
Credit PBS

Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture, made public parks an essential part of American life and forever changed our relationship with public open spaces. He was co-designer of Central Park, head of the first Yosemite commission, leader of the campaign to protect Niagara Falls, designer of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, site planner for the Great White City of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, planner of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” of green space, and of park systems in many other cities.

Olmsted’s design of the public parks and parkway systems in Buffalo, New York, is the oldest coordinated system in America and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To Olmsted, a park was both a work of art and a necessity for urban life. His efforts to preserve nature created an “environmental ethic” decades before the environmental movement became a force in American politics. “Olmsted has a double legacy," says writer Adam Gopnik. "On the one hand, he’s a super pragmatist; he’s a problem solver. At the same time, he’s a dreamer. What his parks are all about is finding immensely practical solutions to the problem of building a dream in the middle of a city."

A new documentary film: “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America” aired recently on PBS and is available at www.pbs.org. “Olmsted may have been the first truly talented and forward thinking urban planner in the U.S.,” says the film’s director Lawrence Hott. “How cities are designed, how we live and work in urban areas, how we build and utilize public open spaces, are some of the more important issues facing American cities today. Olmsted knew that 150 years ago.” Lawrence Hott joins us on Monday’s AU and we’ll hear clips from the film.