Saving Olmsted’s Vision for Baltimore – Guest post by Joe Stewart

Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_OlmstedBelow is a statement sent to the Baltimore City Commission for Historical & Architectural Protection in support of a bill to add Olmsted Parkways to the Baltimore City Landmark List. Please consider sending your own support letter to: Baltimore City Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation Department of Planning Attention CHAP Director Eric Holcomb, 417 East Fayette Street, 8th floor, Baltimore, MD 21202, eric.holcomb@baltimorecity.gov

The Friends of Maryland Olmsted Parks & Landscapes offers the following brief description of the historic role the Olmsted family played in Baltimore and around the country:

“America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) believed that parks and landscapes were an essential part of democratic society. His designs created some of the most beloved public landscapes in the United States – Central Park in New York City; the first park system in Buffalo, New York; the Emerald Necklace in Boston; the Capital grounds in Washington, D.C.; the World’s Columbian Exposition park system in Chicago; the preservation of Yosemite and the Niagara Falls Reservation. Olmsted’s stepson John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) and son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957) became leaders in the emergence of landscape architecture and city planning as professions. Upon Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.’s retirement in 1895, the firm continued as the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects (OBLA) through the 1950s. The Olmsted Brothers addressed the advent of the automobile with comprehensive planning of cities and the integration of active recreation facilities into older parks and park systems.”

“Beginning in the 1870s, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and later, the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects (OBLA), profoundly reshaped the urban Maryland landscape. Olmsted Sr. designed the early suburb of Sudbrook Park and the four Mount Vernon Place parks; he also consulted on other Baltimore parks during the 1870s to the early 1890s.”

“At the behest of the Municipal Art Society, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and OBLA produced the comprehensive 1904 Report Upon the Development of Public Grounds for Greater Baltimore, conceptualizing a park system for the Baltimore region. The Olmsted vision for Baltimore’s park system was second only to Boston’s in size and scope. During the next two decades FLO Jr. and OBLA staff members provided considerable assistance on specific park planning and land acquisition.”

“An extensive report by the Olmsted Brothers in 1926 extended the 1904 recommendations, especially projections to link the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls, and Herring Run stream valleys with a wide variety of parks, parkways, and playgrounds. In many cases, the Olmsted firm assisted in the transformation of private estate grounds into public parks, such as in planning for Carroll, Clifton, Leakin, and Wyman Parks.”

“Few American cities were so extensively influenced by the Olmsted Brothers as Baltimore. Only one of many projects of the Olmsted firm in Baltimore from 1900 up until World War II, the 1904 Report was more than a parks plan. This foundation document established City Planning as important for sustaining the quality of urban living in Baltimore and nationally for the next century.”

1904-Olmsted-Report-MapIt is now more than one hundred years since this landmark 1904 Report. Olmsted Parkways connect Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, Druid Hill Park/Lake, Wyman Park and Lake Montebello/Clifton Park along Gwynns Falls Parkway, Thirty Third Street and The Alameda. Tree lined parks connecting city boulevards with green median strips continue to extend a park experience between these great urban parks.

However, these historic parkways are at times neglected and also threatened, especially when they are simply viewed as obstacles to accommodating increasing numbers of vehicles overwhelming our urban landscape to the disadvantage of shared uses, e.g. cycling and walking.

The Olmsted Parkways were meant to connect parks and continue users’ park experiences between parks set aside for all the residents of the city. They were never meant to serve as inner-city superhighways. They were always meant to emphasize a green preserved connection between parks.

The bill to add Olmsted Parkways to the Baltimore City Landmark List puts the role of these parkways into historical context and re-enforces the historic significance of the Olmsted park plan’s green tree-lined median strips which do need enhancement, improvement, preservation and protection. Adding the Olmsted Parkways to the Baltimore City Landmark List for historical designation will support and sustain these historically significant green corridors and allow them to continue serving all of our city residents.

“Development of Public Grounds For Greater Baltimore” by the Olmsted Brothers in 1904 reminds us “open spaces, such as parks, can be secured only by joint action; they are not inevitable products of city growth, and if they are to exist, every generation during which the city grows must exert itself to add more of them, keeping pace with the erection of new buildings and the extension of streets.”

An October 1987 Revitalization Plan For The Wyman Park Drive 33rd Street Corridor included this statement by one of its participants, “decisions about Memorial Stadium, Eastern High School and other developments will be made which in turn will affect the corridor. Slowly, the basic elements of this important green space may be clipped until the cumulative effect is negative not only to the neighbors but to the city as a whole. Design and maintenance criteria need to be established to define and protect these important links in Baltimore’s open space system.”

Landmark historian Arleyn A. Levee in that 1987 Revitalization Plan for the Wyman Park Drive 33rd Street Corridor noted, “How fortunate for Baltimore to have had the benefits of early Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. for a regional system of parks and parkways. And, how fortunate for the city now to have this opportunity to rediscover the intent of this planning and to work on re-establishing the integrity of the design concept for the 33rd Street boulevard. This leafy corridor across the urban grid, linking diverse green nodes, was designed to make the quality of life in the city more habitable and civilized. It is our responsibility as the inheritors of this landscape legacy to actively protect and rejuvenate it to its intended flourishing condition and to recognize its importance as a vital amenity of the contemporary urban experience.”

I urge the Commission and the Planning Department to add the Olmsted Parkways along Gwynn Falls Parkway, Thirty Third Street and The Alameda to the Baltimore City Landmark List.

Joe Stewart

3212 Avon Avenue

Baltimore MD 21218

joestewart31947@comcast.net

 

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