Film examines Olmsted’s influence on parks

A new film about the father of the American city park will screen Thursday evening at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

“The Olmsted Legacy” is a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed New York’s Central Park 150 years ago. His influence extended to Philadelphia.

While Olmsted never personally worked on any park in Philadelphia, he laid the foundation which almost every landscape architect draws from. Olmsted wanted his parks to address many issues including storm-water management, the psychological health of city residents and aesthetic beauty. Filmmaker Rebecca Messner said he wanted his parks to be contemplative more than athletic.

“A long open space – a meadow or a lake where you can stand and look out over it. The idea was to walk around it on these really winding, sinuous paths and just observe,” said Messner. “Since then, it’s been a struggle and debate surrounding it – Olmsted purists say these parks should not be played upon. They shouldn’t put goal posts up on either end.”

Much of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia follows Olmsted’s ideals for open green space. Some landscape architects say even though newer urban green spaces look nothing like Olmsted’s work – like Pier 11 in Philadelphia or the High Line in Manhattan – they express his goal to create respite from urban life for all the city’s residents.

Richard Roark, a landscape architect with the Olin design firm, said Olmsted’s ideas were rooted in nature.

“We’re always attuned to natural world no matter who we are. No matter who you are, there’s a commonality there, in that space,” said Roark. “That’s extremely tough to do – that he did it at the start of the profession is unthinkably brilliant.

The film premieres Nov. 4 at 6:00 pm at The Philadelphia Art Museum. Tickets are $15.   For more information, see The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Web Site.

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