Field Trip :: The Emerald Necklace (Part 1)

One of several distinctive bridges along the Emerald Necklace - Photo from 

By Ian Hester, BArch Candidate

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying rapid growth across the United States led to the transformation of the country into an urban society, resulting in a new way of life. The fast pace and stress of overcrowded cities had created a desperate need for an outlet.

The Public Garden - Photo from

Frederick Law Olmsted recognized this need, and his solution was to preserve open spaces and develop parks that would provide a release from the stresses of the city. His early work in Yosemite brought his ideas to the fore, and inspired Theodore Roosevelt to propel the establishment of national parks across the country.

Muddy River in 1920 - Photo from

Olmsted's recognition led the Boston Park Commission to hire him in 1878 to create a water management system for Stony Brook and the Muddy River, and to improve the ecological health of the marsh in the Back Bay, which had suffered from the recent damming and filling in of the mud flats. The result was the Emerald Necklace, more than 1,100 acres of parkways and waterways that formed a linear system of parks with numerous opportunities for both active and passive recreation.

Olmsted's parkways - Photo from

This system, which was built between 1878-1896, was designed to link Boston Common, the Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall with a series of new parks: Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. Dorchesterway, which would have linked Franklin Park to Boston Harbor, was never built.

Map of the Emerald Necklace - Image from

In addition to the environmental concerns of ecology and water management, Olmsted also addressed social issues in Boston, most notably by designing the Emerald Necklace to be a connection between upper class Beacon Hill and working class Roxbury and Dorchester. This element of his design has since become a frequently referenced precedent for landscape architects and urban planners.

The parks are a place for everyone to use - Photo from

The social and cultural aspects of his work were of the utmost importance to Olmsted. He purposefully designed parks to embody a sense of community and equality, and as a common ground for people of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. These principles, along with his visual and spatial philosophies, formed the basis of American landscape architecture and have since influenced landscape design around the world.

Back Bay Fens - Photo from

The enormity of both the physical size and historical importance of the Emerald Necklace makes it impossible to cover in a concise manner. Over the coming months, Back Bay Fens, The Riverway, Olmsted Park, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park will all be explored more thoroughly.

If you are interested in the Emerald Necklace, Frederick Law Olmsted, or landscape architecture in general, check out the National Park Service's Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline. Free tours of the grounds are given between 10:00am - 4:00pm during the summer, and the grounds are open all year long from dawn to dusk for self guided tours. There is no charge for admission. This is a great place to sketch and think about landscapes and site context, so check it out if you have an opportunity. Go here for more information.