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The City Project Equal Justice, Democracy, and Livability for All

The Olmsted Vision

In 1930, the firm started by the sons of the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted proposed a comprehensive and coherent network of parks, playgrounds, schools, beaches, forests, and transportation to promote the social, economic, and environmental vitality of Los Angeles and the health of its people. According to the Olmsted Report in words that remain true today:

Continued prosperity [in Los Angeles] will depend on providing needed parks, because, with the growth of a great metropolis here, the absence of parks will make living conditions less and less attractive, less and less wholesome. . . . In so far, therefore, as the people fail to show the understanding, courage, and organizing ability necessary at this crisis, the growth of the Region will tend to strangle itself.

The Olmsted Report recommended 71,000 acres of parkland, and another 92,000 acres in outlying areas, with 440 miles of connecting parks and parkways, including a parkway along the Los Angeles River. The Olmsted Report proposed the joint use of parks, playgrounds, and schools to make optimal use of land and public resources, and called for the doubling of public beach frontage. Implementing the Olmsted vision would have made Los Angeles one of the most beautiful and livable regions in the world. Civic leaders killed the Report because of politics, bureaucracy, and greed in a triumph of private power over public space and social democracy.

The Olmsted Report called for the doubling of public beach frontage: "Public control of the ocean shore, especially where there are broad and satisfactory beaches, is one of the prime needs of the Region, chiefly for the use of throngs of people coming from inlands. . . . [T]he public holdings should be very materially increased."

Activists today are restoring a part of the vision and the lost beauty of Los Angeles through the urban park movement.

 

1930 Map of Green L.A. Inspires Urban Vision

Public-Interest Law Firm Organizes to Provide Parkland for L.A. Neighborhoods

By Liz Valsamis
Los Angeles Daily Journal
Jan. 28, 2005

LOS ANGELES - In 1930, [the firm started by the sons of] Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted presented officials with a map showing a green Los Angeles criss-crossed with hundreds of square miles of parkland. The [report] warned that, unless his leafy vision of Los Angeles was implemented, the region would become unlivable, strangled by sprawl.

But the city lacked the vision and organization to execute Olmsted's blueprint for a green utopia, and it was shelved. The thousands of acres of proposed parkland were paved over, leaving the city of Los Angeles with few parks, particularly in its poor, urban neighborhoods.

Although Olmsted's plan is just a memory, [The City Project at] the Center for Law in the Public Interest has revived his vision of urban parkland.

In the last five years, the public-interest law firm, led by Executive Director Robert Garcia, has organized community groups and, as a last resort, filed litigation to bring parks to poor, nature-starved neighborhoods from West Los Angeles to the city's eastern edge.

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National Park Service: Olmsted For a New Century

The summer 2005 issue of the National Park Service's magazine Common Ground (776KB PDF) focuses on the influence of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted across the country.

Sliced, diced, and in one case censured, the handiwork of Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm has survived and thrived in different mixes of geography, climate, politics, and history. Here, directors of three groups discuss why: Susan Rademacher of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Deborah Trimble of the Buffalo Parks Conservancy, and Robert García of [The City Project at] the Los Angeles Center for Law in the Public Interest, who takes inspiration from an Olmsted plan that never was, but might be one day. As budgets shrink for urban parks, these organizations have been critical to carrying on the Olmsted legacy.