Film exploring the role of Frederick Law Olmsted in the Buffalo parks system and his work with the Free Niagara Movement at Niagara Falls. The Buffalo park system is the oldest integrated 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.
In the decades after Olmsted’s death, many of the parks he created were neglected and misused. For Central Park in New York City, the low point came in the 1970s. The Central Park Conservancy was founded 1980 to bring the park back. Its mission statement: To make the park clean, safe, and beautiful. By the late 1980s, Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision for Central Park had been largely restored.
Olmsted’s before and after photographs of construction of the Emerald Necklace in Boston demonstrated how the system was completely engineered. The Olmsted office documented the changes over time, showing how the artful arrangement of plantings and stone transformed the landscape from a construction site to a magnificent park.
Olmsted feared that his parks would be ruined by intrusions of all sorts. He feared that the open space in a park would be a temptation to a growing city. His fears have been realized. In many places, parts of his parks have been redesigned and some have been nearly destroyed. The integrity of Olmsted’s parks has been threatened by golf courses and stadiums in Boston, large teepees and lookout towers in Louisville, and highways and overpasses in Buffalo.
Shadyside is one of six connected Olmsted parks in the suburb of Druid Hills in Atlanta. In the 1980s, the Georgia Department of Transportation began work on a four-lane highway that would cut directly through the park. The residents of Druid Hills began a campaign to stop the road. It would take ten years, sixty arrests, dozens of court hearings, and millions of dollars to end the fight.
Olmsted and Vaux design a residential community that would be called Riverside. It’s among the first of the utopian garden suburbs. Later Olmsted and Vaux’s design for a Chicago park system were interrupted by the great Chicago Fire, but when the city began to play the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 they called on Olmsted once again.
21st Century Parks is a Louisville based organization that is building a 4,000 acre addition to Louisville's public park system, resuscitating Olmsted’s idea of building parks ahead of the growth of the city. The plan is that over the next 100 years the city will expand around an intentional, integrated park system, one that follows Olmsted's design principles.
In 1868 Olmsted came to Buffalo, NY and was asked to choose a site for a park. Instead, he recommended three sites to be connected by a new concept – parkways. The system he and Vaux designed became the first coordinated park system in the nation. Later Olmsted visited Niagara Falls and started the “Free Niagara” campaign, a movement to clean up, preserve and set aside parts of that landscape.