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Emerald Necklace

Boston's Emerald Necklace consists of an 1,100-acre chain of nine parks linked by parkways and waterways.

This linear system of parks and parkways was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to connect the Boston Common, which dates from the colonial period, and the 1837 Public Garden along the Muddy River and Leverett, Willow, Ward's and Jamaica ponds through the Arnold Arboretum to the great country park — Franklin Park.

From Boston Common to Franklin Park, it is approximately seven miles by foot through the parks. 

Art of the Emerald Necklace

There is a style of painting you may know called trompe l'oeil, meaning "fool the eye." Such paintings depict a scene so well, we almost think the image is real. It is easy for a park to "fool the eye" in its own way. We look at a landscape and, without much thought, we see it as natural: a welcome preserve of ground spared from the built environment of the city around it. 

Study these green spaces more closely and you'll find they are far from naturally occurring phenomena. They are feats of engineering, marvels of visionary urban planning, corridors of transportation, contributors to the public health, and a canvas upon which an artist has worked in plants, trees, earth and water instead of oils. 

The artist we refer to here is Frederick Law Olmsted who, for his vision and craft, is known as the father of landscape architecture. He designed the Boston Park system we affectionately call the Emerald Necklace, a string of nine continuous parks. 

Though he did not design the first three parks - Boston Common, the Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall - he did envision the new and older parks working together as a system. And he believed they should work in many ways. 

Olmsted designed this park system in the later 19th century to provide a common ground to which all people could come for healthful relief from the pollution, noise and overcrowding of city life. Carriages, horseback riders and pedestrians could enjoy their recreations, and Bostonians could find places for both active play and quiet contemplation. He reshaped the topography to solve major drainage and sewage problems and to create a rustic environment. 

The Emerald Necklace is considered one of Olmsted's finest works. The parks in this system are designated Boston Landmarks and are listed on the National Register of historic Places. Today, a century after the last of the parks was completed, they continue to attract visitors from all over the world. Like many great works of art, they give particular joy and satisfaction to their owners, the people of Boston.

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1822 - 1905

Frederick Law Olmsted moved his offices from New York, where he and Calvert Vaux had designed Central Park, to Brookline, Massachusetts in 1883. His office in Brookline housed one of the earliest professional practices of landscape architecture. Among his students and successors were Charles Eliot and Olmsted's sons John Charles and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The firm was involved in the design of nearly 5,000 projects in 45 states and several countries. The firm operated out of the same offices until 1980, when the site was acquired by the National Park Service.

Visit the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy has opened the Emerald Necklace Visitor and Volunteer Center in the Back Bay Fens. The Center is a hub for volunteers to come together for service projects as well as a training ground for Emerald Necklace Docents and Interpretive Guides. It is also an access point into the Emerald Necklace park system and acts as an information center on all park activities, offering walking and biking tours, guide maps, interactive learning activities and exhibits. The Center welcomes visitors Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Learn more about volunteering

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