Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin
Justin Martin said, “Frederick Law Olmsted is arguably the most important historical figure that the average American knows the least about. Best remembered for his landscape architecture, from New York's Central Park to Boston's Emerald Necklace to Stanford University's campus”
He was born in 1822, and his 81-year life had more than a normal share of personal challenges and tragedy. A strained marriage, untimely deaths of children, close relations and close friends. He suffered psychological torment, physical ailments and depression.
During the civil war he was put in charge of the United States Sanitary Commission which was created by federal legislation in 1861 to help support sick and wounded soldiers of the United States Army. The commission was the forerunner of the American Red Cross. What seems remarkable with his diverse interests and background is that he would finish his career considered the father of American landscape architecture.
He was asked by the New York Daily Times to go to the American South and Texas and research the land and the issue of slavery from 1852 to 1857 before the civil war broke out. He submitted the conclusions of his work in three volumes in which he presented his thoughts his on the effect of slavery on the economy and social conditions of the southern states.
He said that slavery had made the slave states inefficient and said it took 4 times s long to do the same work as was done in the North without slaves. He said that the economic benefits were not true. He claimed that the natural resources of the land were not maximized and were somewhat wasted and that the culture of slavery was not efficient.
When the competition was announced to present a plan for the design of Central Park in New York, Olmsted worked with Calvert Vaux, an English born architect on the contest. They won the competition and then later went on to design and build the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
The author didn’t just focus on Olmsted’s projects, but has let us see who he was and what motivated him as a man. You can’t help but see the genius of this man and his insight. He was an early conservationist and environmentalist with a different philosophy about how the land and people should mix.
Olmsted is presented as a social reformer whose passion for work found its most complete expression in the creation of public spaces intended for the enjoyment of all. Martin’s goal was to “restore Olmsted to his rightful pace on the pantheon of great Americans.”