Stream OLMSTED AND AMERICA’S URBAN PARKS in its entirety now on thirteen’s website!



Join parks experts and policy makers as we screen OLMSTED AND AMERICA’S URBAN PARKS at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC on March 23 at 7:00PM, as part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.

Wednesday, March 23: Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, WASHINGTON, DC
7:00PM, National Museum of Women in the Arts
Deborah Gaston,
Director of Education, National Museum of Women in the Arts will introduce. Discussion with filmmaker Rebecca Messner will follow.
$5, members/students/seniors $4.  To purchase email or call202-783-7370.

OLMSTED title change!

March 9, 2011

If you haven’t yet noticed on our website–the title of this film has been changed to OLMSTED AND AMERICA’S URBAN PARKS.

Same film, different name!

Read executive producer Mike Messner’s editorial in the Washington Post, “Olmsted’s ideals could help solve our real estate mess”.

He writes:

Olmsted designed transformative parks, campuses and greenways; his firm completed an amazing 6,000 commissions and launched a green wave across 19th-century America. The same kind of wave could help resolve the 21st-century real estate mess.

We don’t have the luxury of vacant land that Olmsted often started with, so we must bulldoze underperforming and underused property, put people to work creating parks on some of the land and “bank” the rest until the economy recovers.

A big idea, for certain, but we all know Olmsted was a fan of big ideas!  Read more about Red Fields to Green Fields, Messner’s nationwide research initiative, below:

Washington Post Review

January 3, 2011

Thanks to everyone in the DC area who tuned into THE OLMSTED LEGACY on WHUT last night!

We are thrilled with this recent review in the Washington Post:

“A well-timed look at architect of American parks”

Says WaPo staff writer Emily Yahr:

As the holidays end, Christmas lights darken and the city settles in for the frigid winter months, an inconspicuous and intriguing documentary makes its television debut and reminds us of the simple joy of sitting outside in the sunshine.

Keep checking back for more info on opportunities to see THE OLMSTED LEGACY in a city near you!

OLMSTED returns to New York!

November 17, 2010

TOMORROW the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation hosts a screening of THE OLMSTED LEGACY back where it all began… at the Arsenal in Central Park (where the original Greensward Plan is housed!).  The event kicks off at 6pm with an introduction by NYC Parks Commish (and TOL interviewee) Adrian Benepe.

Hear Benepe talk about his early days as a Central Park ranger, where he witnessed drug busts at the beautiful Bethesda Terrace, HERE

To RSVP for tomorrow’s screening, call 212 360 1324.


In the studio with Kevin Kline

With his Shakespearean training, capacity for humor and strong connection to Central Park, we thought Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline was the perfect choice to make the words of Frederick Law Olmsted come to life.

We were especially excited to hear him lend his voice to evocative lines like these:

Olmsted’s Voice: “The time will come when New York will be built up, when all the grading and filling will be done, and when the picturesquely-varied, rocky formations of the Island will have been converted into foundations for rows of monotonous straight streets, and piles of erect, angular buildings.  There will be no suggestion left of its present varied surface, with the single exception of the Park.”

Many thanks to our friends at the Central Park Conservancy for making this happen!

The Long Meadow in Prospect Park is arguably the happiest place in the world in the hours before 9am on Saturdays.

Saturday, 8am, happy pups

Saturday, 8am, happy pups

The off-leash initiative started in the 1980s, when Tupper Thomas, Prospect Park Administrator, and now president of the Prospect Park Alliance, needed a way to get people back in the park.  Dogs are allowed to be off-leash in the park from 9pm to 1am, when the park closes, and from 5am to 9am in the morning.

Our crew was able to catch a beautifully joyous scene at around 8am on Saturday, June 27.  I racked my brain to no avail to see if I had ever been in one place with so many dogs.  We strolled among the throngs of dogs and their owners, many of whom also had adorable babies in tow.  The cuteness factor was almost too much to handle.


The Great Lawn

Who knows if Olmsted could have forseen the popularity of this particular activity–early on, in the late 1800s, dogs did come to the park–leashless, it seems–but presumably in the interest of tending sheep.  Tennis ball launchers, of course, had not yet been invented.

Sheep in the Long Meadow, circa 1900-1905

Dogs and sheep in the Long Meadow, circa 1900-1905

With no sheep to tend to on Saturday, the raucous canine party left virtually no mess behind them, and by 9am, the dogs were diligently leashed back up and led either to the shaded paths of the Ravine, or the surrounding streets.  Later, when I asked Tupper about this incredible display of public respect for the park, she told me about the organization FIDO.  FIDO stands for “Fellowship in the Interest of Dogs and their Owners,” and is a community organization that works with the park to educate off-leashers about park rules, while encouraging the maintenance of a safe and healthy place for dogs.  Read more about FIDO here:

It was a gorgeous day in Central Park.  The early summer heat was not yet oppressive, and visitors to the park came out in happy hordes.

We sat with Adrian Benepe, commissioner of New York City Parks, in a section of the Ramble, the woodlands area just north of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, on an elegant bank that gave us an exquisite view of Bow Bridge.  On that Friday afternoon, we all felt like we’d arrived at the Four Seasons of city parks:  the lake was filled with joyous (and noisy) boaters, the grass was expertly manicured, Bethesda Terrace and Bow Bridge were shining, nary a napkin or water bottle lay on the ground, and there was soap in all the public bathrooms.

Bethesda Terrace

Then the Commissioner told us a story about how, when working as a park ranger here in 1979, he almost got shot during a drug bust, mere feet from the clean, peaceful oasis of green in which we were sitting.  “I was walking along that path,” he said, motioning to the footpath that leads from Bethesda Terrace to Bow Bridge, “when I heard  someone shout, ‘Don’t move [expletive]!’  Then there were gunshots, and I got down on the ground.”  Animated, he described the ensuing chase, and the kung-fu kick that the officer laid into the drug dealer’s back, taking him down on the ground.

Bethesda Terrace, the romatic spot of weddings and bluegrass quartets that we witnessed this past weekend, mere decades ago was one of the most notorious spots for drug dealing in the city.  Olmsted and Vaux’s vision, which Benepe described  as “effectively creating palace grounds for common people,” in the 1970s and early 1980s, was covered with graffiti and litter.

Commissioner Benepe and Bow Bridge

Commissioner Benepe and Bow Bridge

How did the city make the turnaround?  “You need to shoot for perfection,” he said.  “You should create a wonderful and elegant park experience, and people will rise to it…Litter attracts litter.  Graffiti attracts graffiti,” he said, meaning, essentially, if you build it, they will come.

And come, they have.

Bethesda Fountain, 1880

Bethesda Fountain, circa 1880

Bethesda Fountain, 2009

Bethesda Fountain, 2009

Our producer Michael White likes to call the dynamic duo Arleyn Levee and Betsy Shure Gross as Boston’s  “powerhouse” of park advocates. I like to think of them as the godmothers of the Emerald Necklace restoration effort.

Levee, NAOP board member and John Charles Olmsted expert, told us, “Frankly, Olmsted gave the city of Boston its aesthetic shaping.”

Gross, who co-founded NAOP in 1980, when asked about the importance of the public/private partership in park restoration said “Honey, nothing can be done to change parks without the involvement of the private sector.”

Behind every great park is not only a great designer, but a fierce and determined army of advocates, who will not take no for an answer.

Frederick Law Olmsted once wrote to architect Henry Van Brunt:

Suppose that you had been commissioned to build a really grand opera house; that after the construction work had been nearly completed and your scheme of decoration fully designed you should be instructed that the building was to be used on Sundays as a Baptist Tabernacle, and that suitable place must be made for a huge organ, a pulpit and a dipping pool.  Then, at intervals afterwards, you should be advised that parts of it could be used for a court room, a jail, a concert hall, hotel, skating rink, for surgical cliniques, for a circus, dog show, drill room, ball room, railway station and shot tower?

That is what is nearly always going on with public parks.  Pardon me if I overwhelm you; it is a matter of chronic anger with me.

It is fitting that I came across this quotation yesterday, the day we filmed an interview with Margaret Dyson, Director of Historic Parks for the city of Boston’s Parks and Recreation department, in Franklin Park.  Franklin Park, one of the largest and last parks that Olmsted designed, is now home to a golf course, a hospital, a football stadium, and a zoo.  Dyson remarked how this is one of the most common conflicts that exists, to this day, in the business of city parks.  Cities, she said, often tend to view open space as empty space, ripe for the development of more “useful” structures.

She was happy, however, about the golf course, over which we filmed her interview, because at least it kept the large meadow open, retaining the Olmstedian pastoral.  If you squint, and ignore the buzz of golf carts and the thwack of drives, it looks almost like you’re overlooking an English moor.  Especially given the weather we had, which Dyson said her Irish ancestors would have called “a grand soft day.”

Dyson spoke passionately and eloquently about Olmsted’s legacy and the parks of Boston, and insisted that our cameraman/cinematographer/southern gentleman Teague Kennedy stop calling her “ma’am.”

rear view, 2009

rear view, 2009

Alan Banks, supervisory park ranger for the Fairsted National Historic Site, described the house at the time Olmsted purchased it in 1883 as “a shrub with windows.”

In fact, Olmsted remarked, while drafting the plans to the house’s landscape with his stepson, John Charles Olmsted,

“I don’t object to the cutting away of certain bramble patches if brambles are to take their place–or anything that will appear spontaneous & not need watering or care.  More moving or dug ground I object to.  Less wildness and disorder I object to.”

The crew shoots "the Hollow," the sunken garden of Fairsted

The crew shoots "the Hollow," the sunken garden of Fairsted.

Alan Banks comments on Olmsted, parks, and the music of landscape architecture

Alan Banks comments on Olmsted, parks, and the music of landscape architecture.

This time, thankfully, everyone fit inside

Olmsted's "out-of-door apartment" once again comes in handy. This time, thankfully, everyone fit inside.

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