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Park Program Wins Award

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

National Park News

On Thursday, April 28th, staff from Frederick Law Olmsted and its partners were recognized by the Boston Society of Landscape Architects (BSLA) for their innovative new education program, “Good Neighbors: Landscape Design and Community Building.” One of 23 winning projects selected through juried review, Good Neighbors received the prestigious award of excellence reserved for a single entry representing an outstanding contribution to the profession of landscape architecture.

Recognizing that the future of public parks depends upon citizen stewardship, Olmsted NHS collaborated with local public school teachers, prominent Olmsted scholars, and landscape architects to create the curriculum-based education program, which engages third graders in learning how thoughtfully-designed parks strengthen communities.

With Olmsted NHS as the primary setting, visiting students gain an appreciation of the physical, social, and psychological value of public parks. Through hands-on activities in the site’s restored landscape, historic design office, and newly-rehabilitated model shop, they explore the history, art, science, and civics of landscape design, and park stewardship.

Prior to their field trip to Olmsted National Historic Site, students are visited in their classroom by National Park Service educators, who discuss with them the meaning of landscape and the life, work, and legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, our nation’s most prominent urban park designer. Subsequent to the visit, the students are encouraged to visit a local “Emerald Necklace” park designed by Olmsted, assess its current condition relative to evidence in historic images and plans, and write a letter to public officials with observations and stewardship recommendations. Through a BSLA adopt-a-classroom program, many students also have an opportunity to visit a Boston-area landscape architecture firm. They get to experience first-hand and learn about contemporary design practice, particularly the creation and reclamation of public parks.

Good Neighbors was first conceptualized in 2005 and was developed, piloted, and evaluated from 2006 to 2008 in partnership with nationally-recognized Olmsted scholars, landscape architects, and classroom teachers. Prior to 2011, more than 500 students, 125 teachers, and 60 landscape designers and park managers experienced the program.

According to park education specialist Liza Stearns, 750 Boston-area students, primarily from the Brookline and Boston public schools, will take part in the program this year. Stearns adds that “the Good Neighbors programming model will be rolled out soon as a replicable model for communities nationwide. Students in and around other cities with Olmsted-designed landscapes will learn how these parks strengthen their communities and begin to imagine their own role in the care and stewardship of these landscapes.”

One key role that Good Neighbors is expected to play for Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in the coming years is to increase outreach to urban youth. Superintendent Myra Harrison emphasizes that “given changing demographics and the enormous appeal of new technologies, it is critically important for the National Park Service to reach our urban audiences and offer-place-based education that is lively and engaging. We are honored that BSLA recognizes the Good Neighbors program as achieving those goals.” Adds Stearns: “We particularly want to engage youth who spend little time outdoors, live in neighborhoods surrounding Olmsted-designed parks, yet may not use and might even fear these spaces.”

Funding for the design, development, and implementation of Good Neighbors has come from a variety of sources, including the agency’s Parks as Classrooms, Challenge Cost-Share, Youth Partnership, and Public Land Corps Programs as well as from the Friends of Fairsted, National Association for Olmsted Parks, the Boston Foundation for Architecture, the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and individual donors.

For further information on Good Neighbors: Landscape Design and Community Building, please visit Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site’s website, or call the site weekdays at 617-566-1689. For further information on the BSLA 2011 awards, please go to


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