Monday, June 22, 2009

Olmsted's Green Ribbon . 2

Olmsted moved with his family to Boston from Manhattan in 1883 specifically to design and manage the building of this massive civic project. To do this he established the world's first professional landscape architecture firm at his residence and offices, Fairsted, in the leafy Brookline hills.

Boston without the Emerald Necklace would be as unimaginable as New York City without Central Park ... and amazingly Olmsted designed and built both of them. Central Park, his first commission, launched his career as a landscape architect in 1857 and the Emerald Necklace concluded it upon its completion in 1896, after almost 20 years of tireless work. In between he also designed and built many other parks, park systems, parkways, landscapes and planned communities around the country and in Canada.

We take it as a given, the parks and park systems within the cities of this country, but it wasn't always so. Boston Common, for example, was established in 1634 by the Puritans, primarily to graze cattle and hang criminals and Quakers. For 200 years the Common was the only public park within the booming city of Boston, until the creation of the Public Garden in 1837. Public parks are an invention of the modern mind, and most especially of Olmsted's.

As we see daily, Boston is a city always under construction, a work in progress, constantly reinventing, tearing down and rebuilding itself. One fairly changeless constant over the past century, however, has been the Emerald Necklace. It looks somewhat different from Olmsted's original designs, but it's still intact and if he returned today for a visit he would find its main features quite recognizable. In short, it has stood the test of time, when time has swept away so much of the urban American landscape.