This is the first day in a weeklong series of events in Iowa’s largest city that will celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Olmsted.
“He’s probably one of the most influential American figures that most of us know the least about,” according to Kathleen Jones, of the Des Moines Founders Garden Club.
She says Olmsted believed everyone should be able to access public green spaces and his “parks for all people” concept was a novel idea in mid-19th century America.
“He was, number-one, the father of landscape architecture, but he was also an author, an abolitionist, a social visionary, and he was the one that really got the thing started about the parks movement in the United States,” Jones says. “His very first commission was Central Park in New York City.”
He went on to design hundreds of other urban parks throughout the country. Back in the mid-1800s, green spaces were typically gated and reserved only for the well-to-do. Most people back then took their picnics to cemeteries if they wanted to enjoy nature. Olmsted’s work changed that.
“That was kind of a pioneering concept at the time to have a public place for urban people to go, regardless of their socio-economic status,” Jones says. “Everyone could mingle and get some relief from daily life by going to the park.” Besides Central Park, Olmsted designed such well-known sites as Boston’s linked parks known as the “Emerald Necklace,” Seattle’s park system, the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and the grounds of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
This week’s events in Des Moines include guest lectures from authors, walking tours in select city parks, and films about Olmsted’s accomplishments on what would have been his 200th birthday. “We have a horticultural writer who also does reenactments, he’s an actor,” Jones says. “Kirk Brown is going to portray Olmsted in a one-man show and this is going to be at the beautiful Hall of Laureates at the World Food Prize.”
All events are free and open to the public. See the full schedule at: www.dmfoundersgc.org