A Stroll in the Park

The author of this piece, Douglas Johnston, would welcome comments and discussion on the topic so feel free to add your voice after reading.

A Stroll in the Park

“Is there any pleasure which all persons find at all times in every park? If so, upon what does that pleasure depend?” asked Frederick Law Olmsted for the sole purpose of answering his own questions.

“Yes,” he answered, “there is a pleasure — common, constant and universal to all parks. It results from the feeling of relief experienced by those entering them, on escaping from the cramped, confined and controlling circumstances of the town, a sense of enlarged freedom — to all, at all times, and in the proportion by which there exists the general impression of undefined limit and sense of indefinite extent.” (Frederick Law Olmsted, Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns, 1870.)

Central Park

Olmsted worked to create spaces where people could “easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them.”

That was how Olmsted pitched his vision for what city parks should be. A park shouldn’t feel like the city, Olmsted believed. It should feel like an escape in the city from it.


And that is what Central Park and 500+ other Olmsted parks and green spaces remain today. He was a man who helped make cities livable, and who changed America forever.

In a little over two years we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. What more exciting time to explore, understand and participate in  Dorothea Dix Park’s first steps to address the complexities of developing a health-promoting place for all, its sustainability and resilience, and the legacies that Olmsted and Dix champion.

Dix Park


Douglas Johnston – OLLI Member.

Before retirement, Douglas taught at the UNC School of Public Health, was counsel to the State Treasurer, and held the rank of Commander, US Navy, so for him, it’s natural to see Dix Park as an investment in the community’s well-being and our civic common ground.  



2 thoughts on “A Stroll in the Park”

  1. That is exactly what is envisioned for Dix Park. We will be able to “see” our beautiful downtown without being in the mix of its hustle and bustle. The plans for this terrific piece of land are wonderful. It took vision to set it aside for the future. Let us hope it continues to be preserved for our children and grandchildren. Great article on Olmsted! Thank you.


  2. Successful parks are delineated by a range of edges — micro- macro. Dix’s skyline view, like Central Park’s buildings, forms a macro edge, beyond the immediate horizon and separated by a nature-enfolding distance. The buildings’ scale, created by proportion and perspective, tells us we are seeing a
    distant features. Their mass and orientation form a tableau of someone else’s experience, not ours. In our perception the buildings are not “here” in the park, but “there,” away , outside it.


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