To Create Sustainable Community, Town Returns to 1895 Olmsted Plan


In 1895, Vandergrift, a western Pennsylvanian town, was created by a steel magnate who wanted a place where his steel workers could “work, play and live.” The steel company owner hired Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s central park and master landscape architect, to make this vision a reality and create a “livable community.” Now, more than 110 years later, the residents of Vandergrift are returning to the original Olmsted plan in their efforts to create a sustainable community for the 21st century, writes the Associated Press

While communities across the U.S. are creating sustainability plans, Vandergrift’s approach is multi-faceted. The town’s goal is to “create an energy independent, ecologically low-impact, economically viable town from the ashes of its postindustrial wasteland. It aims to renovate buildings with sustainable materials, from carpet textiles to solar roof panels. A farmers market has been expanded. Trees are being planted and green spaces recovered.” According to the Associated Press, the idea is to attract people back to a town that has lost residents, jobs, and the steel industry, and encourage people to “live or shop in the boutiques of the quaint town of just 5,000 people.” 

The town still uses Olmsted’s original layout, which some believe is reason enough to visit Vandergrift. “[Olmsted] designed Vandergrift, 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, with no right angles, instead following the curves of the river. He also used curving paths to blur movement among pedestrians and hedges to buffer commercialism. Street corners and the buildings on them were rounded. Parks dotted the hilly landscape, and the town was walkable.” The Associated Press adds that Olmsted thought “every urbanite, regardless of status, needed a sanctuary.” 

To become even more sustainable, Vandergrift plans to bring back green spaces that have been paved over for parking, and create hydro-electric power from the neighboring river. A former JCPenney will be retrofited and reused. A grant from the National Science Foundation has also helped the town bring in experts from the University of Pittsburgh. “Vandergrift is investing millions toward environmentally sustainable revitalization — a concept gaining popularity in Rust Belt towns that have few viable options for renewal.” 

Read the article

Image credit: Vandergrift river, A hundred visions blog

One thought on “To Create Sustainable Community, Town Returns to 1895 Olmsted Plan

  1. John Dallinga 12/31/2009 / 5:53 pm

    It’s a very exciting prospect to see a small, rural town making strong attempts to become more sustainable. It is more appealing to see it happening under the (resurrected) hand of such a masterful designer and social commentator in Olmstead. However, the idea of creating power through a controversial method such as hydro-electricity is a bit concerning. Could there be alternatives that would serve the community better economically and ecologically?

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