Walking into Central Park, one admires the beauty, serenity, and incredible vistas this safe haven offers its visitors. It is one of those rare places where the natural and built environments harmonize as an oasis in the middle of the densest city in the country. Charmingly, author Justin Martin has a deep connection to this urban refuge where he has spent much of his time. Once Martin developed an interest in the park's creation, he was even married in this first great work of landscape architecture. After writing the biographies of Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, Martin has learned to capture the remote lives of historical figures - and creates a complete and absorbing story of the restless life of Frederick Law Olmsted, an abolitionist, conservationist, and designer of Central Park.
In "Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted," Martin points out that “Olmsted may well be the most important American historical figure that the average person knows least about.” Frederick Law Olmsted’s story is a varied one. Not only did he go down numerous career paths - clerk, surveyor, sailor, farmer, and publisher - but one could say that he failed at each. However, all his talents and life achievements share the theme of his support for social equality. As a pioneering landscape architect and crusading journalist, his reforms continue to shape our public spaces today.
Martin captivates the reader through a thorough narration of Olmsted’s assorted life - complete from his enthusiasm for nature during his childhood; to his growth as an abolitionist; through the creation of Central Park; as a hero in the Civil War; to his gold mine in California; the launch of the City Beautiful Movement; and concludes with his death in a Boston asylum (ironically a site he had earlier designed).
Are there any parks in your city that hold significant meaning for you? Is open space and parks prioritized in your community? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
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