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A Walk in the Park: The Legacy of the 1903 Olmsted Plan

A Walk in the Park: The Legacy of the 1903 Olmsted Plan

In 1903, landscape architect John Charles Olmsted wrote that “Seattle possesses extraordinary landscape advantages in having a great abundance and variety of water views and views of wooded hills and distant mountains and snow-capped peaks. I do not know of any place where the natural advantages for parks are better than here. They can be made very attractive and will

In 1903, landscape architect John Charles Olmsted wrote that "Seattle possesses extraordinary landscape advantages in having a great abundance and variety of water views and views of wooded hills and distant mountains and snow-capped peaks. I do not know of any place where the natural advantages for parks are better than here. They can be made very attractive and will be, in time, be one of the things that will make Seattle known all over the world." That same year, city leaders hired John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (the sons of famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted) to develop a comprehensive plan for Seattle’s park system.

Historic Photo of Green Lake Way, Seattle

Historic Photo of Green Lake Way, Seattle

The Olmsted Brothers designed a master plan of neighborhood parks linked together by a 20-mile long greenbelt comprised of boulevards and parkways. The parkways are lined with trees and other native plants, while the boulevards are lined with homes (this is still noticeable today). Each neighborhood park reflected the character of that particular neighborhood and provided a slice of nature within an urban lifestyle.

While the greenbelt was the prevailing feature of the master plan, John Charles Olmsted also intended to locate a park or playground within a half mile of every home. He believed that playgrounds were a necessary component to childhood development and for a civilized society.

1909 Olmsted plan for Green Lake Park, Seattle

1909 Olmsted plan for Green Lake Park, Seattle

The 1903 Olmsted Plan (and the 1908 park expansion plan) is the basis for Seattle’s modern day park system. Of the 68 parks and 18 boulevards that the Olmsted Brothers designed or recommended, Seattle has built 17 parks and 14 boulevards. The most significant Olmsted designed parks include:

The Olmsted Brothers were also influential in the design of Gas Works Park and Discovery Park.

Seattleites today owe a debt of gratitude to the Olmstead Brothers for conceptualizing the foundation of the city’s expansive green space network. Are there other cities with similar legacies?

Credits: Images from Paul Dorpat. Data linked to sources.

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Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual struct...

  • http://www.seattle.gov/parks Dewey Potter

    Hi Amanda–
    Very nice job on your Olmsted piece! I have one small correction to offer if you want to email me or give me a call at 206-684-7241.

    Dewey Potter
    Communications Manager
    Seattle Parks and Recreation
    206-684-7241

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Amanda Bosse

    To clarify, the Olmsted Brothers only recommended parks at the sites of today’s Gas Works Park and Discovery Park. The Olmsteds were in Seattle before the actual design of these parks.

  • Pingback: Farewell to Global Site Plans and The Grid from Amanda Bosse | The GRID | Global Site Plans()

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