Conversations with Olmsted: His Vision for Reform

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                                             Social justice, equity, and reform are not new topics for landscape architecture—rather, they are at its origin. Frederick Law Olmsted’s prominent role in shaping public opinion on social reform in the period leading up to and during the Civil War still impacts practice today. Join us for a conversation that recenters the way we tell the story of Olmsted’s work and origins of landscape architecture. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explore conditions of 19th-century cities including intense rural-to-urban migration, industrialization, and immigration, and how these conditions impacted the discipline of landscape architecture.
  2. Discover how, through his writing, Olmsted confronted the institution of slavery and the cotton economy.
  3. Explore how Olmsted’s values of and advocacy for social reform translate to today’s urban and cultural challenges.
  4. Identify how, from its inception, landscape architecture aimed to address societal and environmental conditions through design, and how racial equity and environmental justice issues continue to shape what we do as designers today. 


  • Sara Zewde, Founding Principal, Studio Zewde
  • John Stauffer, Professor of English and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University
  • Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Office for Urbanization, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

This event is co-hosted by the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Recreation and Park Association. ASLA and NRPA are two of the founding partners of Olmsted 200, the bicentennial celebration of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. 


NRPA Education online learning content is accessible for 180 days from the date of your registration. The learning content is available for registration for one year from the date of origination.

Sara Zewde

Founding Principal

Studio Zewde

Sara Zewde is the Founding Principal of Studio Zewde. Sara brings years of experience leading complex design processes across the Americas, with a design approach that works explicitly to illuminate the distinct cultural and ecological qualities of a place. Sara is Assistant Professor of Practice at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Hebbert Award for Contribution to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and the Silberburg Memorial Award for Urban Design. Sara was named the 2014 National Olmsted Scholar by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, a 2016 Artist-in-Residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and in 2018, was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's inaugural "40 Under 40" list. Most recently, she was named a 2020 United States Artists Fellow. Sara is a registered landscape architect and holds a master’s of landscape architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a master’s of city planning from MIT, and a BA in sociology and statistics from Boston University. 

John Stauffer

Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies

Harvard University

JOHN STAUFFER is the Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of 20 books and over 100 articles, which mostly focus on antislavery, social protest, or photography. GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln was a national bestseller. The Black Hearts of Men was the co-winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize and the Lincoln Prize 2nd Place winner. Picturing Frederick Douglass was a Lincoln Prize finalist. His essays and reviews have appeared in Time, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and in scholarly journals and books. He has been on national radio and TV, including The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air, and Book TV. He has served as a consultant for several films and exhibitions, including Django Unchained, The Free State of Jones, The Abolitionists, and WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY. And he has been a speaker and scholar for the U.S. State Department’s International Information Program. He lives in Cambridge with his wife, Deborah Cunningham, and their two sons, Erik and Nicholas.

Charles Waldheim

Hon. ASLA, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Office for Urbanization

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Charles Waldheim is the John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Office for Urbanization at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He is an American-Canadian architect and urbanist. Waldheim’s research examines the relations between landscape, ecology, and contemporary urbanism. He is author, editor, or co-editor of numerous books on these subjects, and his writing has been published and translated internationally. Waldheim is recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome; the Visiting Scholar Research Fellowship at the Study Centre of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; the Cullinan Chair at Rice University; and the Sanders Fellowship at the University of Michigan.

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