History of the Park

“Judging from the general drift of public opinion with reference to such matter, as I have had occasion to follow in other cities, the project of a lake shore park will be from time to time revived until, from regard to the interest of the city as a whole, it is adopted.”
F.L. Olmsted to Buffalo Park Commissioners, January 1889 regarding South Park.


Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks and parkways is America’s oldest coordinated system of its kind. Built in conjunction with his partner Calvert Vaux,  this pioneering design consisted of a large centralized park, ceremonial space and a military parade ground connected by parkways where commercial traffic was prohibited.   As the city grew, Olmsted extended his plan to include a second park at the lakefront southern boundary of the city. At the time, this park would have been Buffalo’s first park with public waterfront access.

The original plan for this South Park, which included canals, water access, athletic fields and tracks as well as open public spaces, was never approved and two smaller, more limited parks without waterfront access were built.

21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor is advocating for the creation of a park where Frederick Law Olmsted’s world famous landscape designs and forward-thinking conservation principles can be implemented on a modern and active waterfront. The park would include some of the innovative ideas Olmsted originally proposed for a waterfront  South Park. This never realized plan included a picturesque canal connecting the waterfront with downtown Buffalo using electric boats and water taxis;  activity islands accessible only by boat;  the use of windmills to power lights; and islands for wildlife and birds among other things.

Including Olmsted’s design elements in the revitalization of our waterfront demonstrates the relevance of his planning principles to modern times.

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