Frederick Law Olmsted’s legacy lives on in today’s parks and landscape architecture

By Paul Clinton 

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture.  Landscape architects across the U.S., myself included, are celebrating this bicentennial.   

Frederick Law Olmsted started his landscape architecture firm in 1857 with the belief that everyone should be able to visit and enjoy parks.  He began promoting parks as part of civic infrastructure in the mid-1800s to create space for people to enjoy nature and preserve parts of the natural planet in everyday life.  

Olmsted’s legacy is, in part, responsible for the way in which many Americans identify with parks and how they view the importance of the natural environment and the need for its protections. Today, we have thousands of parks across the U.S. that provide benefits for physical and mental wellbeing to everyday citizens and visitors. These parks and other open spaces are directly linked to improving the overall environment by providing cooler and cleaner air in our cities as well as providing habitats for wildlife.  

IMEG’s large-scale landscape architecture and environmental work exemplifies Olmsted’s quote, ”The beauty of the landscape is not that of a single elegant specimen, but that of the whole landscape.” Our pollinator habitat plot work with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, for example, involves bringing back 75 acres of native prairie vegetation at five rest areas.  These rest areas double as parks for the interstate traveler and habitat for the monarch butterfly.  

The beauty of these sites is the diversity of species that make up the prairie landscape. The seasonal vegetation changes provide visual interest for humans, and food, shelter, and nesting for wildlife. IMEG’s work in creating wetland mitigation sites also provides functional landscape that improves water and air quality in both the urban and rural areas. 

Landscape architects, design professionals, city planners, conservationists, community leaders and more have come together to celebrate the bicentennial of Olmsted’s birth. Just as importantly, the Olmsted 200 campaign is exploring the many ways in which this visionary landscape architect’s values can address today’s challenges. 

I invite you to be part of the celebration and conversation on how we can innovate upon Olmsted’s ideals for the future. 

Learn more about Frederick Olmsted and events related to his legacy at the Olmsted 200 website.