Frenemies of Yore: Olmsted & Vaux

East
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
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Alexander Garvin signs books at a literary breakfast hosted by the Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership.

No soggy Wednesday morning in New York could deter park aficionados, urban planners, and assorted Olmstedians from attending a talk and book signing by Alexander Garvin and Robert Twombly. The former head of planning at the LMDC, Garvin is the author of Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities (W.W. Norton, $59.95), just hitting the bookstores this week. Twombly’s Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts (W.W. Norton, $24.95), came out this past summer.

Twombly, who teaches architectural history at the Spitzer School of Architecture, City College spoke first. The books sixteen selections span more than 40 years, but Twombly’s talk primarily focused on Olmsted’s unsung partner Calvert Vaux.

“If there wasn’t a Vaux, there wouldn’t have been an Olmsted,” Twombly argued.

He noted Vaux’s vast experience: more that 12 projects under his belt by the time he came to New York in 1856. Even so, during their lifetime, Olmsted overshadowed Vaux and was paid more.

“In modern day parlance, Vaux was pissed,” Twombly said of the inequity. “But these guys were friends regardless of what type disputes they may have had.”

Garvin played up Olmsted in his talk, calling him “a towering genius.” He noted the relevance of reading the great man today and how he designed parks with an eye toward the future: “Olmsted assumed there would be change.”

Garvin has taught urban planning and management at Yale for so long that his students have come to be known as Garvinistas. He said that the idea for his book came to him while he worked on projects from Memphis to London. He found himself at community meetings explaining what makes a park viable and sustainable—financially and otherwise. The text heavy book includes photos, most of them taken by the author, and explores how parks help in “incubating a civil society.”

Robert Twombly signs "Frederick Law Olmsted: The Essential Texts".

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