Olmsted & Public Health

Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota traces Frederick Law Olmsted’s history in public sanitation, through to his groundbreaking work in the field of landscape architecture, then circles back to public health and concludes in exploring Olmsted’s life as an analogy for the sort of interdisciplinary thinking and action required to address the challenges of today.

Surely a similar politics is at least partly responsible for the environments we have created for ourselves. The low-density development that contributes to our obesity, the air and water pollution that contributes to our cancer rates, and the systemic impoverishment that contributes to our pandemics — all are traceable to political decisions and cultures that favor property owners, developers, and landlords, and the banks and shareholders who benefit as well. We will never confront our contemporary public health problems in any meaningful way unless we question the prevailing power structures — unless we make a powerful case for long-range social good and challenge those who skew the rules in favor of short-term gain for an increasingly remote elite. It will take professionalism and political will, but the price of ignoring our contemporary public health crises — pandemics that will endanger billions, chronic diseases that damage lives and by extension the whole society — will be steep, and we will all pay it.

Please read fisher’s article at the Design Observer.