In Recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service

America’s Best Idea: Fairsted, the Olmsteds and Our National Parks

Series Commentator: Anne Whiston Spirn
Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, MIT

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our National Parks and the “Fairsted School”: An Enduring Legacy

Ethan Carr, PhD, FASLA, landscape historian, preservationist specializing in public landscapes and Professor of Landscape Architecture at University of Massachusetts/AMHERST.


The Olmsted firm is famous for the design of hundreds of municipal parks and other landscapes. The achievements of Olmsted and his successors in scenic preservation are less well understood, but park design and scenic preservation were both aspects of the practice of landscape architecture Olmsted developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. This talk explores the role of the “Fairsted School” of landscape architecture and its influence on scenic preservation and the design of state and national park systems through the twentieth century.

Ethan-Carr-headshotEthan Carr, PhD, FASLA, is a landscape historian and preservationist specializing in public landscapes. He has taught at the Harvard GSD, the University of Virginia, and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is a professor. He has written two award-winning books, Wilderness by Design (1998) and Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma (2007), and is the volume editor of Volume 8 of the Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, The Early Boston Years, 1882-1890 (2013).

GUEST COMMENTARY: Our National Parks and the “Fairsted School”
Jan Haenraets, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015-2016)

Source of “America’s Best Idea“:
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Wallace Stegner in “The Best Idea We Ever Had: An Overview.” Wilderness Magazine. Washington, DC: The Wilderness Society, Winter 1983.

Thank you to Wheelock College for their generosity in hosting our lectures.

Co-sponsors of 2015-2016 Lecture Series:
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
Boston Society of Landscape Architects
Brown, Richardson + Rowe
Richard Burck Associates, Inc.
The Fenway Alliance
Friends of Mount Auburn
Friends of the Muddy River
Friends of the Public Garden
Historic New England
Library of American Landscape History
National Association for Olmsted Parks
New England Landscape Design & History Association
New England Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians
Pressley Associates
Ray Dunetz Landscape Architecture, Inc.
Reed Hillderbrand
The Trustees of Reservations
Tom Woodward and David LePere

We thank our supporting partners who contribute to these lectures:
Massachusetts Historical Society
Emerald Necklace Conservancy
High Street Hill Association
Vanasse Hangen Brustlin

December 2018: Saving Central Park: A History and A Memoir
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

April 2018:
What Is a Park For? Olmsted, Obama, and the Meanings of Urban Landscape

Carlo Rotella
December 2017:
Beyond Drawings: The Olmsted Archives as Muse and Vision

Lucinda Brockway

March 2017:
Lewis Mumford’s Green Urbanism

Aaron Sachs
December 2016:
From the Granite Garden to West Philadelphia (with a nod to the Fens): Restoring Nature & Communities

Anne Whiston Spirn

April 2016:
Parks: Cornerstone of Civic Revitalization

Rolf Diamant
December 2015:
The “Fairsted School”: An Enduring Legacy

Ethan Carr

March 2015:

Gary Hilderbrand

December 2014:
Dwelling in Landscape

Daniel Bluestone

March 2014:
The Shaping of Regions: The New York Regional Plan and the Origins of Planning in America

Robert Yaro

November 2013:
From Buffalo to Boston: Olmsted’s Evolving Vision of Urban Park Systems

Francis R. Kowsky