For a century and a half, local residents have used the park system established by the designs of Frederick Law Olmsted. A new exhibit probes the question, Who was Olmsted?
Do you enjoy Delaware Park in North Buffalo, MLK Park on the city's East Side or Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo? Ever wonder how those parks got there or who designed them?
Surrounded by the grass, trees and Mirror Lake of Delaware Park, the Buffalo History Museum and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy are probing Olmsted and 150 years of the park system he created in a young and booming Buffalo.
Lauren Becker is curator for "Our Better Nature," analyzing the man and the parks movement in an exhibit at the museum through January 2019. Becker said she learned how pivotal a historic figure Olmsted was.
"As I was doing research for the exhibits and learning more about his park philosophy, it wasn't just that he was a landscape architect and sort of invented the idea of these urban parks that we have come to expect, but his park philosophy as to why he was doing it," Becker said. "It really was more not so much to save nature, but to save us using nature."
Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created urban park systems for decades. Their parks - not just those here in Buffalo - were completely artificial creations intended to sooth the stress of urban life in the 19th century, to separate the relaxation of the parks from the stress of urban life in difficult times, the way the Ring Road in Delaware Park on the Nottingham Terrace side runs through grass lawns and trees.
"That's partly why this exhibit is so much about Olmsted," Becker said. "We take the parks for granted. For those of us who either moved here or are already here as we came in, we don't really understand how special they are. To really understand that, you have to really understand how special Olmsted was and what a character he was and how really devoted he was to making life better for people."
Olmsted Parks Conservancy Executive Director Stephanie Crockatt said the exhibit also tells a story about the parks and how they have improved in recent years.
"Teaching people about preservation and it will have these great assets right here in our community, that shouldn't be overlooked," Crockett said, "and one of our challenges is that with every generation that comes in and gets to use the parks, they don't always understand what it was just 15 years ago and what condition the parks were in 15 years ago, which wasn't great."