Why is Buffalo kicking off an entire “Olmsted Week” of events to celebrate the bicentennial of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth on April 26, 2022? As I suggested in my recent Olmsted Week article, it could be argued that no one who wasn’t from here, and never lived here, had more effect on Buffalo and western New York than Frederick Law Olmsted. How? First and foremost by designing, with his partner, Calvert Vaux, the first citywide park-and-parkway system ever created anywhere, right here in Buffalo. It transformed large swaths of Buffalo, and affected the course and form of development as the city expanded outward, especially to the south, where residents demanded their own parks and parkways. At the very southern edge of the city, Olmsted proposed a major park on the Outer Harbor, a vision Buffalonians are still striving to realize.
In a way, despite neglect and haphazard stewardship, the park system saved Buffalo a century after it was created.
It could also be argued that the park-and-parkway system was key to the development of the Elmwood Village, one of America’s great neighborhoods. For large swaths of the city, in fact, the expanding system brought so much beauty and grace that the high quality of life acted as a counterweight to the middle-class abandonment cities experienced in the postwar years. In a way, despite neglect and haphazard stewardship, the park system saved Buffalo a century after it was created.
It all began with Olmsted’s 1868 visit to Buffalo at the invitation of community leaders, after which he recommended the initial system of three parks and connecting parkways. As important as that was — and rightly commemorated by the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy with sesquicentennial events in 2018 — what happened the following year, 1869, was just as extraordinary: the big reveal of the fully fleshed-out concept, described in words and laid out on a map of the city. Buffalonians of the time understood its significance; it was the talk of the town, and as much debated as major public project proposals are today.
Knowing how much Buffalo Rising readers love a “big reveal,” I couldn’t let its 2019 sesquicentennial go by without calling attention to it. But since my piece was published during the holidays that year (on Christmas Day, actually), you may have missed it. So in honor of Olmsted’s bicentennial we’re re-posting it. Happy reading! Hope to see you at an Olmsted bicentennial event over the next few days. Note that the original 2019 post and comments are still here.
Lead image: Reproduction by permission of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Buffalo, New York