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Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape

The landscape-architect André formerly in charge of the suburban plantations of Paris, was walking with me through the Buttes-Chaumont Park, of which he was the designer, when I said of a certain passage of it, “That, to my mind, is the best piece of artificial planting of its age, I have ever seen.” He smiled and said, “Shall 1 confess that it is the result of neglect?”

––Frederick Law Olmsted, The Spoils Of The Park

IMAGINE YOURSELF IN CENTRAL PARK one million years ago. You would be standing on a vast ice sheet, a 4,000-mile glacial wall, as much as 2,000 feet thick. Alone on the vast glacier, you would not sense its slow crushing, scraping, ripping movement as it advanced south, leaving great masses of rock debris in its wake. Under the frozen depths, where the carousel now stands, you would not notice the effect on the bedrock as the glacier dragged itself along.

Back in the 1850s,

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