Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #45

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 – 1903)

45 Frederick Law Olmstead

A sprawling mass of high-rise urban density without green space to give it balance would resemble the dark and oppressive set design of a film like Blade Runner or a novel like 1984. Urban parks in America, landscaped thoughtfully, with an eye toward variety, emulation of nature, and balance of the city and the country, will ultimately lead to a discussion of Frederick Law Olmsted. The former journalist, who became known as “the father of American Landscape Architecture” is often unjustly held up as having single-handedly changed the way we look at urban green space. While he collaborated with many other (most importantly, Calvert Vaux), he certainly deserves a pretty fair chunk of the credit he receives for his contributions to Central Park, Riverside Park, and his and Vaux’s Brooklyn masterpiece Prospect Park. These great accomplishments gave way to a staggering career designing other urban parks, academic campuses, grounds of private estates, and state parks throughout the US. Olmsted’s efforts to marry progressive, forward-looking, American modernism with elegant Old World traditions serve as a perfect metaphor for the aesthetics of New York City itself. By the time he died at age 81, in a state of physical and mental infirmity, he was in the comfort of McLean Hospital in Belmont, the grounds of which he himself had designed many years earlier.


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