Click here to download “Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted,” by Anne Whiston Spirn.
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) left a legacy of wonderful places, from Central Park to Boston’s Emerald Necklace, from Niagara Falls to Yosemite. Few people now recognize these as built landscapes. Most are startled to learn that New York’s Central Park was constructed, that even The Ramble is an artful wilderness, and that Boston’s Fens and Riverway were molded out of polluted mudflats, planted to grow into tidal marsh and floodplain forest. Even those few who recognize Central Park and The Fens as constructions are surprised at how extensively the experience of Niagara Falls and Yosemite are shaped by design, for these have come to stand as monuments of nature untouched by human artifice.
This essay is included in an anthology, Uncommon Ground Toward Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (1995), edited by William Cronon. We’ve read Cronon’s essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness” and he appears in the Ken Burns documentary. Sprin is an author, photographer, designer, landscape architect, and teacher.
Click here for study questions for this essay. It is expected that you will read this article and be able to answer these questions in class on Monday.