Tonawanda News

Features

October 6, 2013

BOOK NOOK: The genius behind a walk in the park

Tonawanda News — If you attended elementary school in Western New York you likely learned the development of Buffalo’s parks system was a trailblazer, a game-changer and a difference-maker. Urban environments, anywhere, simply did not have acres of pastoral space available to residents of every economic class until Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux laid out their plans for Buffalo in 1868. 

The result was, and remains, magnificent, with parks of varying size connected by streets heavy with greenery, towering trees lining the streets and what in Buffalo are called “islands” dividing the road’s lanes. The plan deserves a book, heavy with photographs and scholarly, informed commentary.

“The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux and the Buffalo Park System” is that book, essentially an art book about an encompassing work of art many in the area know well. Written by local art history professor Francis A. Kowsky, it has a comprehensive and intellectual heft to it, both in scholarship and in weight, a beautifully-produced volume on a topic that deserves something exactly like this.

The parks were installed in Buffalo’s most robust age, the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th — actually the plans were developed between 1868 and 1896 — and were essentially the first of their kind. 

Olmsted had recently designed New York’s Central Park, but his project for Buffalo was more than a large rectangle of verdant luxury in the middle of a city. This was a genuine park system, and the overwhelming majority of it remains in place and available today.

Delaware Park, Riverside Park, South Park and its botanical gardens, get a treatment here that make the reader think it’s Paris he’s studying. Buffalo was that significant; the parks were that attractive. Even the modern-day photographs here, of tree-lined Bidwell Parkway and other elements of the system, look like art photography.

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