With the 200th birthday of Emerald Necklace creator Frederick Law Olmsted coming up on April 26, a national bicentennial effort has been created with local efforts popping up across the country as well–including in Boston.
Olmsted’s pride and joy was his work in Boston and Brookline with the Emerald Necklace parks, so the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC), along with the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site are partnering on Boston’s celebration, called Olmsted Now.
The Gazette spoke with Jen Mergel, Director of Experience and Cultural Partnerships for the ENC, to learn more about the celebration, its goals, and upcoming events.
Mergel said that Boston’s programming is “not focusing so much on the man, but how his ideas relate to” what is going on right now in Boston and in the country. “We are honing in on the concept of shared use, shared health, and shared power” and looking at things through a “justice lens.”
Aside from the ENC and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic site, there is a growing coalition of more than 117 community partners ranging from landscape architects to colleges to public health organizations working on this effort. Mergel said that Olmsted Now has a “goal of making parks a more vibrant space,” and is “not a single day, not a single person, event, or organization. It’s really a process, not a product.”
She said that a group effort was necessary for this celebration, especially as the city looks to recover after the pandemic to connect with one another in a just and equitable way.
There are four elements that are part of the Olmsted Now effort: collaborating as a coalition, connecting across disciplines, creating a committee of neighborhoods that centers power within them, and “centering voices that have been missing in parks programming,” Mergel said.
Programming will go from April to October in parks across the city, and includes different types of events and programs, such as a Public Dialogue series that has been going on virtually each month since January.
“We don’t assume everybody knows what spatial justice is,” Mergel said. “We want to host open public dialogues.”
The next dialogue will be on April 20, and will have two parts: the first will focus on the question of “How can we turn the idea of parks equity into action?” and the second will be a “focused conversation on really recognizing what youth need in their relationship to nature,” Mergel said.
The question will be focused on the theme of shared power,” and based on criteria, a call for proposals will be made to make under-recognized artists and community organizers’ work more visible in well-known parks in Boston. Conversely, attention will be brought to lesser-known parks by showcasing the work of more well-known artists.
Parks as Platform is also another important piece of the Olmsted Now celebration, Mergel said, and is an “opportunity for the Conservancy to do what it is already doing,” as it is an expansion of the Summer on the Necklace Series.
The ENC will work with a partner at each site, typically in conjunction with another event going on in the park that day. On April 23 in Olmsted Park, the event will be Park Serve Day, and the ENC will help ensure that there are signs and communication that will bring “more diverse audiences” to the parks through these events.
“We want to help facilitate through these big partnerships,” Mergel said.
“The whole point of this is for us to use this as a listening experience and a learning experience,” Mergel said of Olmsted Now. She mentioned that when Mayor Michelle Wu was elected, she “said Boston needs to be a Boston for everyone,” and now the ENC is asking “how do we turn that into action?”
Residents are encouraged to share their park stories and events on the Olmsted Now website at www.olmstednow.org, as well as interact with the Instagram page @olmstednow. “If people want to become part of the coalition, they’re welcome,” Mergel said.
She said that the ENC has received different types of feedback about parks in the city.
“I talked with colleagues who want the process of producing events in public space to be more welcoming and more streamlined,” she said. “We’ve heard from people that they don’t know what is allowed in parks.”
Mergel said that a goal of the ENC and of this partnership is “turning observations into actionable suggestions,” and actually looking into addressing feedback heard from residents.
Other upcoming events as part of Olmsted Now include Olmsted’s 200th birthday celebration on Tues., April 26 from 6:30 to 7:30 at the JP Boathouse, a Muddy River Cleanup on April 23, a Parks as Platform event in Olmsted Park on April 23 in conjunction with Brookline’s Parks and Open Space Division, and a tour of Charlesgate Park on April 29.
There are many other events scheduled as well; the full calendar can be found on the Olmsted Now website, where a link to sign up for the monthly e-newsletter can also be found.