Struggling to Maintain Olmsted’s Legacy

Struggling to Maintain Olmsted’s Legacy

I am remembering that April 26 is the 200th birthday of the great Frederick Law Olmsted, who left us a legacy of great landscapes, an ethos of social progress, and a vision for how Americans could live in balance and beauty. Olmsted was born and raised in Hartford, then considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a cradle of thought leaders who had an outsized influence on our young democracy.

Sadly, over the years Hartford followed the same trends that destroyed much of the fabric of our cities.

The picture above of Olmsted’s birthplace, now a parking lot, is only a couple of blocks from several projects designed by “FLO,” including the State Capitol grounds, and a stone’s throw from Bushnell Park, America’s first publicly funded public park.

The Olmsted family moved to a house nearby when Frederick was a young boy, and in this beautiful neighborhood, he started to form many of his ideas for how city residents could live in harmony with each other and their natural environment.

In the 1950’s the site of his boyhood home took a direct hit from the planners of Interstate 84. To visit, use the Ann Uccello Street bridge crossing the highway and stop midway across.

While Hartford continues to struggle with the vestiges of urban renewal, it is taking inspiration from other cities around the country which have rebounded and reclaimed urban neighborhoods as livable places. I’m happy to be working with @Bergmann on a small area plan which encompasses the neighborhood of Olmsted’s youth. Hartford is even having discussions about removing and rerouting I-84, which did incalculable damage to the health of the city.

Olmsted’s story in Hartford is not well-known. Hartford is the place where he was born, grew up, and is buried, all within walking distance to many of the landscapes designed by him and his sons.

Olmsted continues to be relevant to the story of America, with our renewed need to strengthen our democracy, create more humane and livable environments, preserve wild places, and strive for equitable and integrated neighborhoods.

Omsted’s remains lie a mile north of his boyhood home, in Old North Cemetery. Rest in peace, FLO!

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About Phil Myrick

Phil Myrick is an advisor to planning and development projects around the world and former CEO of Project for Public Spaces. Phil applies research into how people interact with their environments and each other to create vibrant places, destinations, districts, and developments. His strategic advice has helped his clients achieve their goals of attracting people, engaging people in their community, strengthening connections and social fabric, and stimulating economic development. Phil is married with two teenagers and struggles to satisfy his passion for being outdoors or on the water.

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