150 Years of Olmsted Parks in Buffalo: Celebration Purpose & Plan 2018
In 2018, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy (BOPC) engaged in a year-long celebration effort to recognize 150 years since the conception of the nation’s first urban park system.
Impressive History: It began with a visit to Buffalo in 1868, at the request of young Buffalo politician and booster, William Dorsheimer.
Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his architectural partner Calvert Vaux, had just completed both Central Park and Prospect Park to great acclaim. Buffalo wanted the same.
However after Olmsted visited that summer, he convinced city leaders that building an interconnected park and parkway system would better serve the entire community; essentially growing the city within a park framework. Over the next 40 years Olmsted, Vaux and Olmsted’s sons would continue to develop Buffalo’s historic system where today it has become an award-winning and internationally admired landscape. This exceptional system conceived in 1868 was the first ever to be designed in America, and continues to provide regional curb appeal for nine of Buffalo and Erie County’s major cultural institutions.
Since 1978: The BOPC is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization committed to a dual mission of preserving while also sustaining the Olmsted park system as listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places
Through a unique and innovative public-private partnership with the City of Buffalo, the BOPC has overseen the maintenance and restoration efforts of the 850 acre park system since 2004.
This partnership focuses city resources on the daily operational aspects of the dual mission. Guided by its 2008 master plan, The Plan for the 21st Century, the BOPC strives to fundraise not only for capital improvements, but organizational and operational funding to ensure the long-term maintenance and sustainability of these public assets and community investments.
What 2018 Brings: The 150th Celebration year will be targeting a cognizance of the system as a whole, to reinforce the community connection between our parks, parkways and landscaped traffic circles.
Market research from both 2015 and 2017 consistently revealed that the public’s understanding of the park system and its connectivity is limited, and that knowledge of BOPC as the system’s steward is minimal.
Thus it was determined that a concerted awareness campaign should be engaged in 2018 to activate park neighborhood alliances, increase volunteerism, enlighten the schools, and reinforce a point of community pride and quality of life value for this national and local treasure.
Once Aware, Who Will Care: With awareness built over the year in elevating the value, accessibility, pride and gift of the park system, the question should be who is caring for this incredible asset?
That is where awareness for the BOPC will come into view. At the end of this Celebration year the BOPC’s goal is to launch an endowment campaign.
This fund will be housed within the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo with the core intent to sustain the BOPC organization, its mission and its park restoration investments. At this time BOPC is one of the only major cultural organizations in Buffalo without a supporting endowment, which means that fundraising for 60% of its $3.4 million annual budget occurs from scratch each year. After nearly 15 years of a successful public-private partnership, the encumbrance to maintain the parks is seeing a growing gap between what the City can afford and what the BOPC can raise. The BOPC has set an initial endowed benchmark goal of $18 million; a modest and rational target for sustainability.
A Year of Planning for the Future: In addition to the Celebration aspects of the 150th, concurrently 2018 marks a year in which BOPC will be renegotiating its public-private partnership, as well as updating its 5-year master planning priorities.
It is a positive opportunity to celebrate 15 years of collaboration and achievement, and to tout 10 years of BOPC master planning accomplishments with return on investment to the community.
It is also an important chance to explore the future needs and aspirations of this park system with the many constituents and partners who advocate for a greater public good.
BOPC will be in active negotiations with the City on its future partnership for the parks, and will be working with the University of Buffalo, Dean Robert Shibley and the UB Regional Institute on the assessment and prioritization of capital and restoration projects. The University of Buffalo was instrumental in the development and publication of the BOPC’s Plan for the 21st Century in 2008.
The Excitement of Olmsted
In 2018, we planned several activities and events to celebrate 150 years of Olmsted Parks in Buffalo!
These activities support the BOPC’s objectives of community awareness and future endowment fundraising. “Our Better Nature”, an exhibition on Olmsted’s 150-year legacy in Buffalo, was one of the many activities planned as part of this special year.