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Olmsted Medal for Adrian Benepe

Nette Compton
New York

Adrian Benepe is this year’s winner of the ASLA Olmsted Medal. The honor reflects his long career in the service of public spaces.

Adri­an Be­ne­pe re­cei­ved the olm­s­ted me­dal by the ame­ri­can so­cie­ty of land­scape ar­chi­tects, pho­to: Fr­an­ces M Robert

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As the title of the Olmsted Medal suggests, this annual honor of the American Society of Landscape Architects is named in honor of the father of modern landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted. Given Olmsted’s well-loved stature in the landscape architecture community, the honor is unsurprisingly reserved for those who have had an extraordinary impact on the environment through leadership, vision, and stewardship.

Olmsted Medal for Adrian Benepe

This year’s winner is Adrian Benepe, Hon. ASLA, reflecting his long career in the service of public spaces, currently with The Trust for Public Land as the Director of City Park Development and previously with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, including 11 years as the Commissioner. In full disclosure, I have had the privilege of serving with Adrian Benepe in both of these organizations, and know first-hand of his depth of knowledge, commitment to urban public space, and advocacy for the role of landscape architects.

Adrian Benepe oversaw New York’s greatest era of park investment since the WPA (the Works Progress Administration, the largest American New Deal agency), with millions annually dedicated to park expansion and improvement. The period spans now-famous landscapes like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park, but also enhancement of many neighborhood parks across the borough. As commissioner, Adrian Benepe pushed for more innovation, sustainable design, beauty and creativity in the work of the Parks Department, reflected in the many award-winning designs that were built during his tenure. While he is quick to distribute credit across the many partners and staff involved in this work, he provided cohesive leadership and advocacy to sustain and expand the quality of this work.

Improving urban parks around the country

While the scale of the New York Parks Department is immense, his current purview has broadened to the entire country, in his work with the Trust for Public Land. Working with staff across many offices, his role allows him to push advancements and new approaches to expand and improve urban parks around the country. His emphasis on pushing for best practices in the realm of urban parks expands the understanding among communities and local leaders on what parks can provide: community pride and cohesion, improved public health, resilience to a changing climate, delight and beauty where it is most needed, and simply a place to play. While these considerations may be obvious to readers here, there remains much work to be done to convince city leaders and residents that parks are not a second-tier priority for cities; parks provide benefits towards the solving of many city first-tier issues.

Making cities better

On a personal note, I have seen how Adrian Benepe has gone to great lengths to tout the value and skills of landscape architects to all who may ask. While not trained as such, he has a keen sense of our view of the world, and how we can make cities better. It has been a wonderful experience to be part of the many initiatives and projects that have helped to shape New York and beyond, and his leadership and advocacy has been crucial in pushing them forward.

Read here about the ASLA Honors of 2013. Find here further information on the Trust for Public Land.

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