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Know Olmsted? You’ve seen his parks.

By Sidney Madden | @sidney_madden_


Today would have been the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who touched cities across the nation — including Chicago. 

Dubbed the father of American landscape architecture, Olmsted’s impressive East Coast portfolio in the mid-19th century — including the design of Central Park in New York City — made him highly sought-after by Chicago officials and urban planners.

1868: Olmsted and business partner Calvert Vaux were commissioned to design the southwest suburb Riverside, the country’s first planned suburb that drew Chicago’s elite.

1871: The duo dreamt up the South Park plan, a feat that didn’t initially excite them due to the flatness of the 1,055-acre park. The lagoons, canals, and foliage became hallmarks of Washington Park, Jackson Park, and the Midway Plaisance. 

1893: Olmsted returned to the city to modify South Park for the fairgrounds at the World’s Columbian Exposition. He also helped further develop Jackson Park with the help of architect Daniel Burnham. 

1903: His sons, John Charles and Frederick Jr., took over the landscape architecture business upon their father’s retirement. Called the Olmsted Brothers, the two created smaller neighborhood parks in Chicago, which helped provide recreational spaces for communities further away from the lake.

Frederick Law Olmsted in 1860s. (Fotosearch / Getty Images)

How can you celebrate Olmsted’s legacy locally? 

🌲 Go to a community seed hunt and tree planting in Riverside today.

📸 Check out Washington Park Camera Club’s “Parks for All People” virtual exhibit.

💡 Learn more about Olmsted with the Chicago Architecture Center May 12.

👟 Take a walking tour in Washington Park, Jackson Park, or Midway Plaisance this summer.

P.S. The bicentennial celebrations are ongoing all year. Check out Olmsted 200 for more events.

[Sources: Parks historian Julia Bachrach; Encyclopedia of Chicago; Chicago Public Library; Chicago Architecture Center; WTTW]

What’s your favorite park in the city? Tell us what you love about it! Email, and we might include your response in the newsletter. Earn brownie points if you send in a picture of the park, too! 


After a year without a new labor contract, the graduate student union at the University of Illinois Chicago went on strike last week. Bargaining continues around wage increases, student fees, health care costs, and more. 

The momentum around labor organizing is not just picking up on campus. Workers are fighting for better conditions across industries, from corporations like Amazon and Starbucks to smaller, local companies like tortillerías. 

🎧 Jeff Schuhrke is a labor historian, professor, and former UIC grad student union member. He tells us about the importance of this moment.


▪️ Life expectancy has dropped almost two years for Chicagoans since the start of the pandemic, one of the sharpest single-year drops on record. Expectancy gaps between white and Black Chicagoans further widened. [WTTW]

▪️ Here are tips for how to talk to kids about the war in Ukraine. [WBEZ]

▪️ Take the bus? Fill out this survey, and let the city know how it could improve.

▪️ “Matrix” creators and Chicago natives Lana and Lilly Wachowski are auctioning away items from the trilogy and other films next month. Proceeds go to help trans youth. [WBBM]

▪️ Hear Norwood Park serial killer John Wayne Gacy in newly released tapes in Netflix’s latest “Conversations With a Killer” series — or don’t. I’ll be sitting this one out. [CNN]

▪️ Want to take free Cantonese or English classes? This group is looking for 30 residents of color from South Side neighborhoods to take a course this summer. Apply by Sunday.

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After Friday’s potato salad debate, the verdict is in, and it’s decided: We all mostly like potato salad. (Except me — I’ve never had it! 🤭)

Readers also shared their fav dishes at the BBQ: smoky ribs, baked beans, deviled eggs, mac and cheese, pasta salad, and of course, the oh-so-controversial potato salad. 

Sheesh, I’m hungry. Meet you at the City Cast cookout next time it’s warm? 

Thanks to all who participated!