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Celebrating Olmsted’s WNY Heritage

A new book celebrates the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Buffalo’s Delaware Park, among other local landscapes.

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published July 21, 2011

“Olmsted in Buffalo and Niagara,” the first history and guidebook written about the visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the remarkable park systems he designed in Western New York at the end of the 19th century, has been published by the Urban Design Project, School of Architecture and Planning.

The book is written by Lynda Schneekloth, Robert Shibley and Thomas Yots, a team whose books on placemaking, urban planning, historic preservation and adaptive reuse explicate many of the architectural and planning highlights of the Niagara Frontier.

Only 108 pages long, including the appendices, “Olmsted” is nevertheless a thorough history of Buffalo’s remarkable system of parks, circles, lakes, fountains and parkways, and the Niagara Falls State Park, one of the first restoration projects in the United States. Colorful and detailed, full of drawings, plans, charts, maps and historic and contemporary photos (16 pages of them in color), it articulates with great detail the aesthetic impulse to which Olmsted gave form, and offers a guide on where and how to visit.

The authors say Olmsted imprinted his vision about the power of nature to heal and enrich urban life on both Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Assisted by his sons and business partner Calvin Vaux, he gave Western New York two of his most important works: the Buffalo Olmsted park and parkway system, and the Niagara Reservation.

Olmsted aficionados throughout the country will love the book, but it will find its greatest fans among the residents of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where he worked for 30 years and where his park system remains a source of civic pride.

Olmsted, who had a significant career in journalism as well, designed New York's Central Park in 1853 and already was considered the father of American landscape design when he was brought to Buffalo in 1868 to give this booming city its own “central” park.

But, Schneekloth says, “He left behind something much more complex and integral to the city: six parks and the greenways that connect them. This vision of a green necklace running through what Olmsted called the ‘best planned city in America,’ is still a vital element in park planning and is replicated throughout the world. And it started here, in Buffalo, N.Y.!"

Today, the not-for-profit Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy promotes, preserves, restores, enhances and ensures maintenance of the Olmsted parks and parkways in the greater Buffalo area, with the assistance of a battalion of volunteers.

Olmsted’s work can be seen beyond Buffalo, of course. He also was a major force in the “Free Niagara” Movement that restored the severely compromised landscape around Niagara Falls and he enjoyed hundreds of commissions for important private estates, major academic campuses and state and provincial parks throughout the U.S. and Canada. Among them are the U.S. Capitol grounds and about a dozen parks and parkways in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, all designed in consideration of Olmsted's social consciousness and egalitarian ideals.

“The creation of the Niagara Reservation, the oldest state park in the United States, assured to us and future generations that the falls at Niagara—among the great treasure[s] of the world, according to Olmsted—would be ‘preserved in the picturesque condition in which it was originally laid out by the hands of nature,’” Yots says.

Schneekloth, professor emerita of architecture at the School of Architecture and Planning,is a landscape architect. She is director of landscape for the Urban Design Project and the author or co-author of six books, including “The Olmsted City” with Shibley; “Reconsidering Concrete Atlantis: Buffalo’s Grain Elevators;” and “Changing Places: ReMaking Institutional Buildings.”

olmsted

The 108-page volume offers a thorough history of Buffalo’s system of parks, circles, lakes, fountains and parkways, along with Niagara Falls State Park.

Shibley is dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and founder of the Urban Design Project, a center for the study and critical practice of urban design. He is co-author of several books, including, with Schneekloth, “Placemaking: The Art and Science of Building a Community.” He is a certified planner and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Yots, a public school teacher for 31 years, has a master’s degree in architecture and is a noted Buffalo/Niagara Falls writer, preservationist and specialist in adaptive reuse. With Schneekloth, he co-authored “The Power Trail: Hydroelectricity at Niagara” and contributed to Schneekloth’s “Reconsidering Atlantis.” He serves on the executive committee of the not-for-profit Preservation Buffalo Niagara and is former city historian of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“Olmsted in Buffalo and Niagara” can be purchased for $12.95 in local book stores and at BuffaloBooks.com.