Olmsted Birthday Party Postponed, But Project Plans Move Forward

While a large gathering at English High School to celebrate Frederick Law Olmsted¡¯s 198th birthday on April 26 was cancelled due to concerns over COVID-19, the venerable landscape architect continues to be remembered in other ways.

Olmsted 2022 Massachusetts, – a continuing project for conservation, public health and social justice that was formed in 2010 to lead up to its namesake¡¯s 200th birthday in 2022 – honored the Olmsted Legacy last Sunday by honoring Betsy Shure Gross. Credited as a leading force in the creation of the National Association for Olmsted Parks, Gross went onto serve as one of its first co-chairs before Gerry Wright tapped her to help him launch Olmsted 2022. Gross served as co-chair for its first five years and continues on as an advisor for Olmsted 2022  Massachusetts, Wright wrote.

Olmsted 2022 Massachusetts, which has named Sarah Freeman, a public health research professional and a highly dedicated volunteer for parks, open spaces and a healthy environment, as co-chair, is currently participating in and supporting various projects, including the Franklin Park Master Plan and Shattuck Campus Planning, the Arborway Parkways Improvement Project, and the Back Bay Fens, while continuing to work together with the nonprofit Charlesgate Alliance, with support from the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, to develop plans and raise funds.

Moreover, Olmsted 2022 Massachusetts will share park experiences virtually and via social media, including a collection of images from every day of the year, as well as he Olmsted Birthday awards, which will be presented throughout the year at different programs across the Commonwealth in anticipation of a statewide conference  to be held in 2021, Wright said, with the hope of expanding it to an international conference the following year.

“What we’re now doing is spreading his birthday out,” Wright said of Olmsted’s yearly celebration. “It may be spread all the way out until next year.”

The Shattuck Campus Planning effort is one that is important to many in Jamaica Plain, and many members of the community are divided on the issue of whether to keep homeless and recovery services on the land once the Shattuck Hospital moves to the South End. Many believe the services are necessary, but they should be placed in an alternative location so the land can be returned to Franklin Park.

“My position is clearly unless other places are found we must then create an open campus that has open space that uses what Olmsted uses when he created residential communities,” Wright told the Gazette. “We’re still working on attempting to find places they could put these facilities outside of what used to be Franklin Park,” he added, but “I have been ooff the opinion that that is is probably unrealistic.”

Wright said that as he continues to move forward with the Olmsted 2022 project, “I am working with people who believe that we need to reevaluate and see how we develop these individual parks in their own right.” He said that Olmsted designed each Emerald Necklace Park separately “with a unique center point,” but the parks are all connected by pathways and waterways.

As for the Back Bay Fens, “this is an area that we have some real vision for,” he said.

There’s a terrific opportunity for creating something there that will bring more money to sustain the parks.”

He said one of the biggest issues supporters of these parks have is “to have people appreciate  what Mr. Olmsted thought was the centering part of any park.”

Olmsted 2022 will also soon announce the beginning of its Olmsted Nature Centers, which will provide information connecting history, art, and science at sites across the state, Wright said.

“The long term goal is to keep things going in Olmsted’s principles and practices; his life and works,” Wright said of Olmsted 2020. “That’s my centering point.”

Dan Murphy contributed to this article.

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