By Ari M. Goldberg and John Henry Schlegel
With recent talk of removing the golf course from Olmsted’s South Park to restore the arboretum, it becomes appropriate to return to the troubling contemporary question of the Scajaquada Expressway that is said to be ruining Olmsted’s jewel — Delaware Park.
In 1869, Olmsted presented his original vision for Buffalo’s park system. Not one to leave nature undisturbed, he called for a dam across Scajaquada Creek to create a lake, now Hoyt Lake, and to depress Delaware Road to keep it “out of view from the pleasure routes” in the park. He recognized that the parkways leading to and from the park would be for both “pleasure travel,” for people who wanted “convenience in getting quickly from places where business is done, to places where … rest and sustenance can be had,” and for “ordinary traffic.”
Olmsted thought it best to build his parkways within the existing street grid, and separate the pleasure travelers from the business travelers with planted green space. Lincoln Parkway south of the Scajaquada and Humboldt Parkway embodied this vision.
Later, in 1888, Olmsted planned a park between the northern end of Lake Erie and the city’s southwestern edge. Again, his vision: “Parkways serve, not simply as branches of outworks of the park … but as a part of the general street system of the city.”
Not surprisingly, Olmsted incorporated the Hamburg Turnpike, now Fuhrmann Boulevard, in the plan even though it divided the proposed park in two. Olmsted envisioned his parks and boulevards as symbols of the city’s economic progress, places that would knit together Buffalo and its neighborhoods.
Olmsted’s descriptions suggest he was as much an urban designer and planner as a landscape architect. He saw parks and parkways and commerce as integral parts of the fabric of a city that needed to pay attention to easy transportation within its boundaries.
Contemporary activists, concerned citizens, and urban planners invoke Olmsted’s vision without a full exploration of its contents. Their use — maybe even exploitation — of Olmsted’s vision may be at odds with Olmsted’s actions and writings. We should all consider exactly how Olmsted designed and proposed his parks: through modification of existing land and incorporation of transportation routes that transported citizens from point A to point B as quickly as possible in the late 19th century.
Without understanding Olmsted’s vision, we risk misappropriation and misapplication in an attempt to restore his vision; we cannot restore what we do not understand.
Ari M. Goldberg is an attorney with Colucci & Gallaher, P.C. John Henry Schlegel is a faculty member at UB’s Law School.