On Olmsted and One Earth, by Ana Garcia-Doyle

On behalf of One Earth Collective, including our One Earth Film Festival, as well as our Young Filmmakers Contest and other youth and environmental programs — it’s an honor to be with you as we celebrate Mr. Olmsted’s brilliance in the run up to his 200th birthday in 2022.

. . . Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture and designer of the beautiful town of Riverside, spoke on the importance of public nature, and to the notion that nature belongs to all of us. He said: “The enjoyment of the choicest natural scenes. . . and the means of recreation connected with them is . . . a monopoly . . . of a very few, very rich people. The great mass of society, including those to whom it would be of the greatest benefit, is excluded from it. Private parks can never be used by the mass of the people.”

What do you do when you want to give the masses access to the “greatest benefit” of nature? You design the town of Riverside IL, ensuring there is “enough space for recreation and scenic areas available to all residents.” You design Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance on Chicago’s South Side — and Jackson Park, which is soon to be home to the Barack Obama Presidential Library. You democratize access to nature and all its benefits by bringing “the masses” more than 800 acres of urban park in the form of New York’s glorious Central Park.

The kind of “space activism” practiced by Olmsted, is practiced today by folks like “guerrilla gardener” Ron Finley who turns food deserts into food sanctuaries, and parkways into urban farms in Los Angeles. And by folks here in Chicago like my friend Toni Anderson of Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, who explores the questions of “space equity” — who gets to be in which spaces, and who gets to say so.

By giving us access, Olmsted helped us see that nature can benefit all of us, that nature belongs to all of us. The sooner we realize that, in fact, we ARE nature — the sooner we can double down and start preserving our Earth in a way that meets the challenges of our climate crisis — which is already affecting us around the globe and yes, even here in the Chicago region.

The shift in awareness from “nature is for us to take, use, and discard” — to “nature is for us to protect because she is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and our common home” is interestingly embodied in two quite opposite ideas.

The first idea is what’s called the Overview Effect — the cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight . . . It’s amazing to me that viewing our Earth, our home, from so vast a distance could . . . help us understand how fragile, important, unique, and worthy of protection she is.

Olmsted — in contrast — brings us the opposite of vast distance. Through public nature, he brings the Earth and its benefits up close — tree trunks to hold within our arms, dirt beneath our feet, grass between our toes. A place to eat a sandwich with a friend — to roll down a hill, chase a child, crunch through leaves, smell some moss, skip some stones.

Thank you, Mr. Olmsted, for helping us realize that our One Earth is fragile, important, unique, and worth protecting. That we are her and she is us.

It is so inspiring to be on a seed hunt with you today because our organization’s mission — in so many ways — is to plant seeds. At One Earth, our goal is to use films — stories of any kind, really — to plant seeds for (and spark action on) the ideas about which I spoke. Ideas to which Olmsted devoted his life. That nature belongs to all of us. That it’s the right of each of us to enjoy her benefits and be healed by her. That it’s all of our calling to protect her. That we are simply borrowing her and must steward her with care into the hands of those awaiting her, seven generations ahead.

One Earth was proud to have completed our 10th annual film festival season this past March and April. We ended our final event with a video of poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s “Earthrise.” I’d like to conclude now with a few verses from that beautiful piece.

Where despite disparities
We all care to protect this world,
This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel
To muster the verve and the nerve
To see how we can serve
Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect,
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours,
To use your unique power
To give next generations the planet they deserve.
We are demonstrating, creating, advocating
We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything but lenient
With the future of our youth.
And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.
So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.

– Amanda Gorman, American Poet Laureate, from “Earthrise”

Thank you again to Shilin, and to Cathy and Aberdeen of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society — for your important work and for including One Earth Collective in today’s event. Congratulations to all of you, and to all you Riversidians for kicking off the Olmsted 200 year of seed hunts and celebratory campaigns. Let’s go find some seeds!

One Earth Collective is a non-profit founded in 2012. It harnesses the power of people through vibrant environmental programming that inspires action, facilitates learning, promotes justice, and fosters equity, inclusion, and belonging — to create resilient communities and a healthier planet.