Nineteenth-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted may not be a common household name, but you may recognize a few of his famous landscape designs as some of America’s most well-known green spaces. Central Park in New York City, Franklin Park, the Emerald Necklace, and the Back Bay Fens in Boston are just a few of his masterpieces.
This past money, a new documentary, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America,” was announced and will premiere on PBS stations around the country on June 20. The documentary will highlight how Olmsted not only designed the city parks, but influenced the way America appreciated landscape design.
Today, the United States landscaping industry generates roughly $74 billion in annual revenue, and part of this massive yearly profit is due to the heightened appreciation for landscape design at the end of the 1800’s and Olmsted’s lasting impression.
Although he died in 1903, his legacy lives on through the gorgeous green spaces he has left behind for Americans to enjoy. According to Justin Martin, author of “Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted,” Olmsted may “be the most important American historical figure that the average person knows least about.”
This assumption may very well be true; many people take the scenery for granted and don’t often step back and appreciate the benefits of an excellent landscape design. At your home, trees, shrubs, and other plants can provide shade for air conditioning units and reduce energy costs as well as increase your property’s value by 20%.
But Olmsted thought beyond practical uses — he wanted to give Americans the ultimate outdoor experience of relaxation and recreation.
Before undergoing the daunting task of Central Park, Olmsted was a farmer, the executive secretary of the US Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, an author, and a land surveyor. Although the jobs varied a great deal, all convened to meet his passion: landscape design.
He created “very natural looking landscapes, such as the Back Bay Fens in Boston, which appears a natural landscape, but was one that required all kinds of engineering,” Martin said.
Aesthetics are everything for a landscape design these days, and this trend is partly due to his work. In a recent survey, 63% of respondents reported they would pay more for an apartment or house if it was located in an area with good green spaces. Natural looking landscapes encourage more activity and human interaction, and this is what Olmsted was aiming for.
As opposed to the elegant gardens of Europe, with their manicured gasses, sculptures, and reflective pools, Olmsted wanted nature to be just that — nature. Using less hardscaping techniques, he transported people away from their city life of stone, brick, and concrete.
In his short life, Olmsted wanted to bring people of all backgrounds together with his parks and green spaces so that they could enjoy the beauty of nature. The documentary airing on June 20 will discuss not only his personal life, but his rationale behind the landscape designs he created and the impact his completed works had on American citizens.