Tune into WHUT available in the Washington, DC metro area, at 8:00pm on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 for the broadcast premiere of THE OLMSTED LEGACY: AMERICA’S URBAN PARKS featuring the voices of Kevin Kline and Kerry Washington!


New Website!

July 29, 2010

New website launches today, featuring more information about the film, a teaser, and extended interviews.

In our extended interviews, hear Michael Dukakis talk about urban renewal in Massachusetts, NAOP founder Betsy Shure Gross explain the importance of public-private partnerships in park conservancy, and New York City Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe recall the important role parks played on September 11.

Charles Beveridge called Prospect Park “a classic example of [Olmsted and Vaux’s]  concept of a great urban park,” and “the most pleasing that they created during their collaboration.”

Olmsted himself had this to say to those involved  in the construction of the park in 1865:

“We must study to secure a combination of elements which shall invite and stimulate the simplest, purest and most primeval action of the poetic element of human nature, and thus remove those who are affected by it to the greatest possible distance from the highly elaborate, sophistical and artificial conditions of their ordinary and civilized life.

Thus it must be that parks are beyond anything else recreative, recreative of that which is most apt to be lost or become diseased and debilitated among the dwellers in towns.”

Prospect  Park has the unique quality of seclusion in New York City.  Where the tall buildings of Manhattan which surround Central Park have come to act as artistic framing elements, Brooklyn benefits from being significantly shorter.  Walking through the park today truly offers the illusion of rurality, which Olmsted and Vaux so adamantly sought to create.

This is Brooklyn we're in, you say?

The canopy in the Ravine, Prospect Park. This is Brooklyn we're in, you say?

Tupper Thomas, who became Administrator of Prospect Park in 1980, and has acted as President of the Prospect Park Alliance since its formation in 1987, prefers to do less talking, more showing when it’s time to convince people of the park’s value.

“I don’t talk history and preservation,” she says.  “I take people to look at it, and I say, ‘Look how beautiful this is!'”

The view of the Long Meadow through Endale Arch

The view of the Long Meadow through Endale Arch

The Vale of Cashmere

The Vale of Cashmere

She still, though, has plenty to say on the topic:

“It’s gorgeous, multi-use, brilliant in its design, and it’s everlasting.  Even today the park still replenishes your soul, does wonderful things for your psyche.  It’s still what people need.

The fun thing to do is give people a tour of the park, and tell them it’s designed.  The art of [Olmsted and Vaux’s] design is that it doesn’t look like design.”

Evidence of the design--a c1874 photo of construction on Prospect Park, by the entrance at Grand Army Plaza

Evidence of the design--a photo from circa 1874 of construction on Prospect Park, by the entrance at Grand Army Plaza

There are no transverse roads that cut horizontally through Prospect Park, a fact which allows it to get away with the Long Meadow, the longest unbroken meadow in any urban park in America.  Prospect Park also posesses 120 acres of woodlands, which shelter tinier meadows of their own, and a 60 acre lake.

Our interview with Tupper Thomas took place on a Saturday afternoon in the Long Meadow.  We were surrounded by park users–there to picnic, scooter down paths, play soccer, and celbrate birthdays, which gave the background of our shot some colorful dynamism.

Tupper Thomas

Tupper Thomas

cue the cute kids with balloons...

cue the cute kids with balloons...

group photo with Tupper Thomas

group photo with Tupper Thomas

After completing the plans for Jackson and Washington Parks in Chicago in 1871, Frederick Law Olmsted showed his plans to one of the park commissioners for approval.

The commissioner, after reviewing his plans, made the following query to Olmsted in a letter:

“I don’t see, Mr. Olmsted, that the plans indicate any flower beds in the park.  Now where would you recommend that these be placed?”

Olmsted wrote back, saying:

“Anywhere outside the park.”

Indeed, Olmsted was not a fan of flowers, and was notorious for excluding them in his plans for the great parks of the United States.  Flowers, he upheld, were too beautiful in themselves to act as part of a coherent landscape, when that landscape’s purpose was to “unconsciously” affect those within it.  His goal was to have people enter into a park and be subtly washed over with feelings of ease, without having to stop and say, “Look at that beautiful flower!”

This morning marked our first interview of the shoot, with Dr. Charles Beveridge:  Olmsted scholar, editor of the Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, and author of Frederick Law Olmsted:  Designing the American Landscape, one of the most eloquently written books on the landscape artist and his works.

And so, fittingly, there was much discussion about what would appear in the background of his interview.  The team decided on the backyard of Dr. Beveridge’s DC-area home–a carefully-planned shot that included lots of lush green, but no flowers (at one point, a blue hydrangea was weighed down with a backpack to avoid sneaking on camera).

Now for behind the scenes shots.

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