Birmingham is among many American cities that owes a debt of gratitude to the efforts and vision of Frederick Law Olmsted. Considered the founder of American landscape architecture, he was among the first to recognize the importance to public health of providing green spaces and parks in burgeoning cities at the turn of the century.
First, as a writer for the New York Times, he toured the country, and saw the anxiety, irritability, and impatience that close quarters in smoke-filled cities induced. He abhorred the segregation of the antebellum South. Olmsted was convinced that access to green spaces would reduce stress at a time when that real estate was being rapidly developed. Ultimately, Olmsted believed that public spaces would bring people from all walks of life together in a harmonious environment.
Subsequently in 1865, at the age of 43, upon becoming a landscape designer, he became an unintentional reformer who set out to change the way urban Americans engaged with one another.
His legacy in Birmingham includes:
- an impressive plan for a comprehensive park system,
- the plan for Birmingham’s civic center with its governmental buildings surrounding today’s Linn Park,
- the site selection for today’s Samford University, and
- the site selection and general plan for the Vestavia Country Club.
He invented parkways; he promoted curving, landscape- driven, suburban streets; he created planned communities, and experimental forestry. He connected cities with a series of parks, and ’rules of engagement’ that would allow everyone to protect and enjoy common green spaces. And perhaps his best known and also his first project is Central Park in New York City.
“The time will come when New York will be built up, when the rocky formations of [Manhattan] will have been converted into foundations for rows of monotonous straight streets and piles of erect, angular buildings. There will be no suggestion left of its present varied surface, with the single exception of the Park.” ~ Frederick Law Olmsted
His legacy provided the guidebook as to how American cities are planned today. We will forever celebrate the gifts he gave us! So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Olmsted!
(Many events are being planned and attendance may be in person, virtual or streaming due to Covid restrictions. Stay tuned for more details.)
A comprehensive film and commentary has been produced by WNED PBS and can be viewed HERE
To see the sheer VOLUME of work by The Olmsted Brothers, view the MAP HERE. Select an area to explore and download project maps. For instructions, read THIS
View Birmingham Historical Society’s newsletter regarding Olmsted’s legacy HERE
Please also refer to Birmingham Historical Society’s publication: The Olmsted Vision – Parks for Birmingham. A Publication about the Early Years and Today