By Stephanie Crockatt and Dennis R. Horrigan
Frederick Law Olmsted was our country’s first and finest landscape architect. He came to Buffalo in 1868 and designed the nation’s first system of urban parks, parkways and circles. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is the steward of his genius. In applying it to everyday park solutions, its responsibility is to ask, “What would Olmsted do?”
Olmsted’s vision was simple. Give city dwellers access to green space within the city where they could enjoy the beauty of nature and relief from the turmoil of the city. Over the course of two decades, Olmsted designed six major parks, connected with a series of stately parkways. His design was transformative. Olmsted considered Buffalo “the best planned city in the United States, if not the world.”
Development and highways fractured his masterful landscapes. They undid his design of natural green connection.
The magnificent Humboldt Parkway, once called the most beautiful street in the world, connected Delaware and Martin Luther King parks; it was ravaged for the Kensington Expressway.
Front Park and Riverside Park, each with their exceptional views of Lake Erie and the Niagara River, were alienated from the water by the Niagara Thruway.
And Delaware Park’s connection between its lake and meadow was severed by the Scajaquada Expressway.
As we await a decision by the New York State Department of Transportation on redesigning the Scajaquada, we ask what would Olmsted do – today?
He would design a road that is appropriate in traversing a park and it would be accessible to walkers, runners, bicyclists and parents with strollers – as well as cars.
He would care about water quality in both the lake and creek, wetlands and habitat.
He would return the stone bridge (arched over Delaware Avenue) to his original design, knitting back together the pieces of Delaware Park for all and connecting major cultural institutions to each other.
The influential cultural partners along the Scajaquada Cultural Corridor connected in a collaboration proposing a new look at a phased, comprehensive approach to redesign. It begins by uniting the two halves of Delaware Park. The organizations in the corridor have or will spend more than $300 million in capital improvements to draw visitors and tourism.
We know what Olmsted wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t keep the medians and other dividers that eat up parkland and encourage cars to speed. He wouldn’t take more parkland or add eight-lane massive intersections along the park, as the current DOT proposal does.
We can continue Buffalo’s renaissance with a road design addressing cultural connections, clean water and park restoration. Let’s create an urban cultural connector that benefits health and well-being and adds to the economic strength of the city.
That’s what Olmsted would do.
We should not accept anything less.
Stephanie Crockatt is executive director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. Dennis R. Horrigan is chairman of the board of directors.