The Emerald Necklace + Olmsted

Riding from Cambridge, down across the BU bridge and skimming right across from REI, if you make a right turn either on bike or on foot, you’ll get dumped right into the start of the Emerald Necklace. While the name Emerald Necklace isn’t unique to Boston—apparently part of the Olmstead designed park system in Chicago also bears that name—the experience was something quite unique. In a city with lots of nooks and crannies, where a Square is really an intersection and an intersection often opens up to an unexpected patch of green (e.g. Beacon Hill), the delight of the Emerald Necklace isn’t immediately obvious, but rather it reveals itself to you.
Plan of Boston's Emerald Necklace. Image from Olmstead Archives.

Plan of Boston’s Emerald Necklace. Image from Olmstead Archives.

The two things I like best about the Emerald Necklace are:


1) How it changes from one minute to the next: 
Things like sun and light and leaves all working together to form the most unexpected series of experiences.


2) How old it is: 
While as an architect I’m committed to controlling every inch of a building, Olmsted hasn’t been in control of his parks for over a century. Yet, even though they have grown and matured, the multiplicity of gardeners and thousands of different keepers of his work haven’t disrupted the still wonderful experience of the places he created.


When I did a little wiki-research about Olmsted, I was surprised at how many of his parks I’ve actually been to (outside of the most obvious Central Park and Mt Auburn Cemetery). With around 6000 commissions in 46 states (and let’s not forget Canada!) Frederick Sr and his sons Frederick Jr and John Charles were prolific! Below is a link to the Olmsted Research Guide Online. It provides a collection of archival materials and can help to locate what Olmsted works are nearby you.




One comment

  1. Two thumbs up for Olmstead! He was also the first Landscape Infrastructuralist; his parks served as rainwater retention/stormwater management systems, and were well integrated in to the wetland ecosystems currently existing in cities. If only new parks could be so well designed!

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