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The Best Planned City in the World

Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System

Francis R. Kowsky New photography by Andy Olenick

Publication Year: 2013

Beginning in 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created a series of parks and parkways for Buffalo, New York, that drew national and international attention. The improvements carefully augmented the city’s original plan with urban design features inspired by Second Empire Paris, including the first system of “parkways” to grace an American city. Displaying the plan at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Olmsted declared Buffalo “the best planned city, as to streets, public places, and grounds, in the United States, if not in the world.” Olmsted and Vaux dissolved their historic partnership in 1872, but Olmsted continued his association with the Queen City of the Lakes, designing additional parks and laying out important sites within the growing metropolis. When Niagara Falls was threatened by industrial development, he led a campaign to protect the site and in 1885 succeeded in persuading New York to create the Niagara Reservation, the present Niagara Falls State Park. Two years later, Olmsted and Vaux teamed up again, this time to create a plan for the area around the Falls, a project the two grand masters regarded as “the most difficult problem in landscape architecture to do justice to.” In this book Francis R. Kowsky illuminates this remarkable constellation of projects. Utilizing original plans, drawings, photographs, and copious numbers of reports and letters, he brings new perspective to this vast undertaking, analyzing it as a cohesive expression of the visionary landscape and planning principles that Olmsted and Vaux pioneered.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. 1-4

Title Page

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pp. 5-5

Copyright Page

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pp. 6-8

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Dedication Page

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pp. 9-10

In memory of Charles Capen McLaughlin, who first showed us the way...

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The Buffalo park and parkway system, which Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux began planning in 1868, was the first of its type in the United States. Most of the system survives today, remarkably, with great integrity as part of the notable cultural heritage of Buffalo, New York. ...

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Introduction: Olmsted and Vaux and the Progress of the American Park Movement

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pp. 3-22

Beginning in 1868, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and his British-born partner, Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), created for Buffalo, New York, an assemblage of parks and parkways that attracted national and international attention. Before other American cities, Buffalo endorsed Olmsted and Vaux’s pioneering concept of the metropolitan recreational system ...

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1. The Creation of the Park System

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pp. 23-54

Beginning in the early 1850s, a number of public-spirited citizens attempted to bring into being a suitable public park in Buffalo. They were driven by discontent with the generally unprepossessing appearance of their community, which was transforming itself from a frontier village into a modern city ...

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2. The Making of the Park

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pp. 55-78

During the first year of the Buffalo park system’s existence, the greatest evidence of progress occurred within the Park, where George Radford had accomplished a considerable amount of work by the end of 1870.1 As conceived by Olmsted and Vaux, the Park was divided into two distinct sections: ...

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3. The Front and Prospect Place

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pp. 79-92

Unlike the Park taking shape in the undeveloped northern reaches of the city or the Parade in the working-class cottage district of the East Side, the Front occupied a prime waterside site in a well-off residential neighborhood. Prospect Hill, as this area on Buffalo’s West Side was generally known, had its origins in the former village of Black Rock, ...

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4. The Parade

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pp. 93-106

Parade grounds where state militias might drill had been common in American cities from an early time. They had become features in public parks beginning with Central Park, when the commissioners included a parade ground in the competition requirements. ...

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5. Parkways, Circles, and Squares

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pp. 107-132

In the spring of 1876 Olmsted wrote to William F. Rogers, who was then secretary of the Buffalo park commission, explaining his plan to prepare a map and several characteristic views of the Buffalo park system for the Centennial Exhibition being held later that year in Philadelphia. ...

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6. Parkside, Buffalo State Hospital, and Smaller Parks

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pp. 133-152

Almost as soon as their work on Buffalo’s park system began, the park commissioners realized that the project they were directing would have a profound effect on the lands beyond the parks’ borders. In their Third Annual Report of 1873, they stressed to the Common Council the importance of commissioning a survey of the northern and eastern portions of the city, ...

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7. The Emancipation of Niagara

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pp. 153-184

Already before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Niagara Falls, some seventeen miles downriver from Buffalo, was an important tourist destination. (Fig. 7.1) The opening of the canal brought more visitors, both American and foreign, and the development of rail lines to the town in the 1840s significantly boosted their numbers. ...

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8. South Park, Cazenovia Park, and Riverside Park

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pp. 185-216

From the time of Olmsted’s first visit to Buffalo in 1868, he had explored the possibility of creating a park in the flat, low-lying southern section of town near Lake Erie in the district known as the Thirteenth Ward. In February 1887 a group of citizens petitioned the Common Council to have a park built there, linked to those in the north by a system of new parkways. ...

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pp. 217-222

Twenty-three years after Anthony Trollope remarked that apart from grain elevators there was “nothing specially worthy of remark at Buffalo,” the writer Charles Burr Todd told readers of Lippincott’s Magazine that “the most admirable feature” of the city was “its system of parks, park-ways and avenues.” ...


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pp. 223-240

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pp. 241-242

The origins of this book go back forty years, to the time when I was a doctoral student preparing my dissertation on the nineteenth-century architect Frederick Clarke Withers, an associate of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In the course of my research, I met Charles Capen McLaughlin and Charles Beveridge, ...


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pp. 243-254

Back Cover

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pp. 272-272

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762615
E-ISBN-10: 1613762615
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340061
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340060

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 118 color illus., 110 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859298461
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Best Planned City in the World

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Parks -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- History -- 19th century.
  • Parks -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Design and construction -- History -- 19th century.
  • City planning -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- History -- 19th century.
  • Landscape design -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- History -- 19th century.
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law, 1822-1903.
  • Vaux, Calvert, 1824-1895.
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