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The Best Planned City in the World

The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Best Planned City in the World
    Book Description:

    Beginning in 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created a series of parks and parkways for Buffalo, New York, that drew national and international attention. The improvements carefully augmented the city’s original plan with urban design features inspired by Second Empire Paris, including the first system of “parkways” to grace an American city. Displaying the plan at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Olmsted declared Buffalo “the best planned city, as to streets, public places, and grounds, in the United States, if not in the world.” Olmsted and Vaux dissolved their historic partnership in 1872, but Olmsted continued his association with the Queen City of the Lakes, designing additional parks and laying out important sites within the growing metropolis. When Niagara Falls was threatened by industrial development, he led a campaign to protect the site and in 1885 succeeded in persuading New York to create the Niagara Reservation, the present Niagara Falls State Park. Two years later, Olmsted and Vaux teamed up again, this time to create a plan for the area around the Falls, a project the two grand masters regarded as “the most difficult problem in landscape architecture to do justice to.” In this book Francis R. Kowsky illuminates this remarkable constellation of projects. Utilizing original plans, drawings, photographs, and copious numbers of reports and letters, he brings new perspective to this vast undertaking, analyzing it as a cohesive expression of the visionary landscape and planning principles that Olmsted and Vaux pioneered. Published in association with Library of American Landscape History:

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-261-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. Preface
    (pp. XI-1)
  4. Introduction: Olmsted and Vaux and the Progress of the American Park Movement
    (pp. 3-21)

    Beginning in 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and his British-born partner, Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), created for Buffalo, New York, an assemblage of parks and parkways that attracted national and international attention. Before other American cities, Buffalo endorsed Olmsted and Vaux’s pioneering concept of the metropolitan recreational system and introduced the parkway to the American cityscape. Substantially completed by 1874, their scheme augmented the city’s original plan, created in the early years of the nineteenth century by Joseph Ellicott, with the addition of three new green spaces. These became known as the Park (in 1896 renamed Delaware Park), the...

  5. ONE The Creation of the Park System
    (pp. 23-53)

    Beginning in the early 1850s, a number of public-spirited citizens attempted to bring into being a suitable public park in Buffalo. They were driven by discontent with the generally unprepossessing appearance of their community, which was transforming itself from a frontier village into a modern city forty years after having been burned to the ground by the British during the War of 1812. “Their efforts were prompted not only by the desire for a sylvan counterworld, with opportunities for walking and for repose in the midst of the noisy, congested city,” the historian David Gerber observes, “but also by an...

  6. TWO The Making of the Park
    (pp. 55-77)

    During the first year of the Buffalo park system’s existence, the greatest evidence of progress occurred within the Park, where George Radford had accomplished a considerable amount of work by the end of 1870.¹ As conceived by Olmsted and Vaux, the Park was divided into two distinct sections: the Water Park, a roughly rectangular area west of Delaware Street mainly occupied by boot-shaped Gala Water (the original name of the lake now known as Hoyt Lake), and the Meadow Park, a larger trumpet-shaped parcel of greensward located east of Delaware Street and consisting of 229 acres, 122 of which made...

  7. THREE The Front and Prospect Place
    (pp. 79-91)

    Unlike the Park taking shape in the undeveloped northern reaches of the city or the Parade in the working-class cottage district of the East Side, the Front occupied a prime waterside site in a well-off residential neighborhood. Prospect Hill, as this area on Buffalo’s West Side was generally known, had its origins in the former village of Black Rock, a community named for a boulder in the Niagara River about two miles downstream from Lake Erie. At this distance from the lake, the shoreline of the river provided a good harbor. History credits Peter Buell Porter, a lawyer who had...

  8. FOUR The Parade
    (pp. 93-105)

    Parade grounds where state militias might drill had been common in American cities from an early time. They had become features in public parks beginning with Central Park, when the commissioners included a parade ground in the competition requirements. One wonders if the decision to put Buffalo’s new parade ground in an East Side location represented a wish on the part of city fathers to stage displays of American patriotism in the section of town most heavily occupied by foreigners. These urban military spaces remained important in the decades after the Civil War until, in the 1890s, newly constructed armories...

  9. FIVE Parkways, Circles, and Squares
    (pp. 107-131)

    In the spring of 1876 Olmsted wrote to William F. Rogers, who was then secretary of the Buffalo park commission, explaining his plan to prepare a map and several characteristic views of the Buffalo park system for the Centennial Exhibition being held later that year in Philadelphia. In addition to showing the location of recreation grounds, the map would highlight the city’s exceptional “convenience of street arrangements.” The map and explanatory text would illustrate how Olmsted and Vaux’s “late additions” of the parkways to Joseph Ellicott’s original plan of wide radial “trunk thoroughfares” combined to make the city a model...

  10. SIX Parkside, Buffalo State Hospital, and Smaller Parks
    (pp. 133-151)

    Almost as soon as their work on Buffalo’s park system began, the park commissioners realized that the project they were directing would have a profound effect on the lands beyond the parks’ borders. In theirThird Annual Reportof 1873, they stressed to the Common Council the importance of commissioning a survey of the northern and eastern portions of the city, “with the view of having the streets so laid out to harmonize with a general system, with the Parks and their approaches as the objective points.” It was as if the specter of Joseph Ellicott had pointed the way...

  11. SEVEN The Emancipation of Niagara
    (pp. 153-183)

    Already before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Niagara Falls, some seventeen miles downriver from Buffalo, was an important tourist destination. (Fig. 7.1) The opening of the canal brought more visitors, both American and foreign, and the development of rail lines to the town in the 1840s significantly boosted their numbers. Among those making the pilgrimage to this great natural wonder was the young Olmsted. In 1828 his scenery-loving father took him there after a stay with his uncle Owen Pitkin Olmsted in Geneseo, in upstate New York. In later life Olmsted remembered how in those early days...

  12. EIGHT South Park, Cazenovia Park, and Riverside Park
    (pp. 185-215)

    From the time of Olmsted’s first visit to Buffalo in 1868, he had explored the possibility of creating a park in the flat, low-lying southern section of town near Lake Erie in the district known as the Thirteenth Ward. In February 1887 a group of citizens petitioned the Common Council to have a park built there, linked to those in the north by a system of new parkways. The council responded favorably to the request and instructed the park commissioners to take steps toward its realization. They, in turn, called upon Olmsted for advice. Fresh from the completion of the...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 217-222)

    Twenty-three years after Anthony Trollope remarked that apart from grain elevators there was “nothing specially worthy of remark at Buffalo,” the writer Charles Burr Todd told readers ofLippincott’s Magazinethat “the most admirable feature” of the city was “its system of parks, park-ways and avenues.” Buffalo was certainly on Olmsted’s mind when, late in his career, he wrote that the many large and small parks he had planned around the country were “a hundred years ahead of any spontaneous public demand, or of the demand of any notable cultivated part of the people. And they are having an educative...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 223-240)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 241-242)
  16. Index
    (pp. 243-254)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-256)