In 2022, Greater Boston will mark the bicentennial of America’s great placemaker and designer of the Emerald Necklace park system: Frederick Law Olmsted.
To mark the moment, in early 2020, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Fairsted) and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy initiated Olmsted Now, a coalition-led platform to connect communities and organizations in making parks and public space more vibrant, verdant and welcoming for all. Since then, the Olmsted Now coalition has hit an array of foundational milestones in equity, support, partnerships and outreach. To model anti-racist and trust-based resource development and distribution by and for park communities, Olmsted Now introduces the Committee of Neighborhoods; announces support through a “Come Together” fundraising initiative; and, in the past year, has doubled and diversified its partners, while expanding its communication channels.
Community Power in Action
In 2020, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy commissioned Harvard professor Stephen Gray and Grayscale Collaborative to guide Olmsted Now through an equity analysis and action plan that would not merely “include” but would center communities who could potentially most benefit from bicentennial programming and investments, yet have historically been structurally excluded from park decision-making. As a case study, the Grayscale team researched local neighborhood leaders already working on environmental and racial justice and health equity on behalf of youth and elderly communities identifying as Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) around Franklin Park, the largest park of the Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace park system yet with the fewest organizations involved with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
This past spring and summer, Grayscale discussed with local neighborhood leaders ways to refine the idea of a Committee of Neighborhoods: trusted neighborhood voices acting on experience and ability to solicit, determine and promote Olmsted Now bicentennial programs. Input from these individuals informed the plan to raise funds for compensation, facilitators and programming. This past fall, Olmsted Now engaged Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI), Boston’s experts in spatial justice and public-making, to launch and support the Committee of Neighborhoods through 2022.
Led by Joelle Fontaine (previously at Fairmount Innovation Lab), DS4SI will facilitate training for the Committee of Neighborhoods members in public-making and spatial justice, effective requests for programming proposals, criteria for grant selection, grantee cohort-building, event promotion, audience cultivation and authentic community feedback – all through a cultural equity lens. Importantly, DS4SI will guide the Committee of Neighborhoods on how to distribute $200,000 of funding toward programs that promote “shared use, shared health and shared power in parks and public spaces.” Funds will be raised by the larger Olmsted Now coalition and entrusted to the Committee of Neighborhoods, as a concrete step to equalize, affirm and amplify power centered in neighborhood communities.
Come Together In Support
In 1866, Olmsted wrote of parks as potential spaces of democracy, equitable access and connections across all walks of life.
“In a park, the largest provision is required for the human presence. [We] must come together and must be seen coming together,” wrote Olmsted.
Olmsted’s Bicentennial is Greater Boston’s moment to come together and create connective capital across sectors and neighborhoods that remain siloed. The Committee of Neighborhoods is central to this goal, and Olmsted Now has prioritized securing a minimum of $200,000 in grants to be distributed by the Committee of Neighborhoods in support of its equity agenda to center power and bicentennial programming in communities.
The Board of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy has taken the lead by establishing a Come Together Fund to raise the first $100,000 by end of 2021, matching this with another $100,000 from Conservancy leadership and external donors by March 2022. The Board is also committed to 100% philanthropic participation in Olmsted Now via the Come Together Fund, seeking to demonstrate the trust-based philanthropy that is critical to catalyzing Olmsted Now’s equity-driven programming April through October 2022.
Growing Multidisciplinary Partnerships
Since January 2021, Olmsted Now has hosted 10 coalition planning meetings, and has grown volunteer participation from 60 individuals representing more than 40 organizations to, today, more than 140 individuals representing over 90 organizations within a 60-mile radius of Greater Boston. The coalition’s scope and depth of interdisciplinary interests has grown to encompass advocacy, arts and culture, community organizing, education, environment and health, food and transit justice, landscape history and park design, philanthropy, stewardship and more.
This is exemplified by partners including: in Mattapan, the Urban Farming Institute that supports community health and combats food injustice; in Downtown Boston, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library, planning a Bicentennial exhibition that will foster geographic perspectives on the relationships between people and places; and based in Plymouth, the Community Art Collaborative, which makes art accessible as a community healing modality with partners such as the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe and Plymouth Public Schools. The bicentennial year is a "practice field” for all to join in new forms of collaboration and resource sharing, and Olmsted Now encourages coalition partners to try something new: to connect existing programs to new audiences, form new partnerships or develop entirely new programs and events.
Free Resources to Connect
Olmsted Now offers partners and the public a range of easy-to-use communications and publication tools which can be found on OlmstedNow.org. Since its launch in April 2021, the website has expanded considerably, doubling the number of community-generated stories. The site also hosts an events calendar for partners to share countless public offerings to celebrate, challenge and learn from Boston’s open spaces, and partners are able to download Olmsted Now branded signage tools and templates. The Instagram @OlmstedNow account introduces website stories and promotes partner events to broader audiences and invites partners to takeover the account to share and reach new followers. Starting in January 2022, a new monthly newsletter will launch as well as monthly public dialogues focused on Bicentennial themes of shared use, shared health and shared power in parks and public space.
All are welcome to get involved and informed.