July is National Parks & Recreation Month. While you’re spending your time with your toes in the grass, watching the kids play on the swings, enjoying the scent of the flowers and plants around you, there’s something you should remember:
Someone designed that. People often think of the nature around them being… well, natural. Springing out of the ground unassisted and unpredictable, with no human hand directing it. That’s not always – and in the case of urban parks, not usually – the case. Landscape architects design, plan, and maintain the built and natural environment. Working in concert with local elected officials, city or state agencies, and the community as a whole, landscape architects design public open spaces that bring people together, encourage outdoor and active lifestyles, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
Some of the most iconic parks in America were designed, and are currently maintained, by landscape architects. From coast to coast, you can find the world of landscape architects in some of the most iconic parks and public landscapes in America.
Jackson Park in Chicago was the site of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. After the fair’s six-month run, the land was turned back to parkland for public use. The nearly 600-acre park is located on over a mile of waterfront land on Lake Michigan. Today, the park’s green features include the Wooded Island (complete with ha Japanese-style garden), Bobolink Meadows, and a functioning vegetable and flower garden. Other features include a gymnasium, three harbors, basketball and tennis courts, multi-purpose fields, and more.
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmsted is considered by many to be the father of American landscape architecture, and his sons went on to found the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899. Jackson Park was recently restored by a team of experts which included Heritage Landscapes, a landscape architecture firm that was recently awarded the 2019 ASLA Firm Award, one of the highest honors for landscape architecture firms in the country.
Central Park in New York City. Balboa Park in San Diego. The grounds of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. All were designed by teams that included landscape architects.
And landscape architects don’t only focus on the iconic. Some work in municipal parks departments, on conservancy boards, at schools, or in small neighborhoods all across the country to plan the parks and public spaces that bring neighbors together every day.
In Northampton, Massachusetts, the small 2.5-acre Pulaski Park was transformed by landscape architects at Stimson from a mostly-paved site to a largely green space that celebrates the city’s culture, heritage, and diversity. It was a small project with a tight budget, which resulted in a makeover that gives the community a place to connect – to each other and to the nature around them.
Prefer roller coasters and Ferris wheels to trees and swing sets? Major companies like Disney and Universal Studios employ landscape architects to design and maintain landscapes that energize and delight guests.
So as you celebrate National Parks and Recreation month in #GameOnJuly – whether it’s at one of our nation’s most iconic landscapes, or at your neighborhood park down the street – remember that where there is a park, chances are a landscape architect was behind it.