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  • Elliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF "Are you with me now?" 04.04.22

This week is the 200th anniversary of Frederick Olmsted’s birth. I spent countless hours in the environments he fashioned in Brooklyn and when I was older I walked through them all around the country. Originally, called “The. Park Experience” now shortened to Parks the places have always been more important to me than schools as community spaces (third spaces) and I was lucky enough to live 4 blocks from one of his masterpieces Prospect Park. I’ve written loads about my times in Prospect Park and now with this week coming to a close the stories about Olmsted in the media have mounted. Olmsted tried to immerse all people in “restorative and therapeutic landscapes.” He viewed a walk through a park as “an antidote to the stress and ailments of urban life.” Shades of BPLiving and Andrew Coburn’s Advisory in Roger Williams Park also designed by Olmsted.

Olmsted’s parks had just three design elements:

Prospect – A long sweeping vista where we can take in information for miles around. A place where viewing is unhindered like meadows;

Refuge – A hiding place where, from concealment, we can see without being seen, and gain information without giving away information about ourselves. places of seclusion, and

Mystery – Winding roads where we can’t see what’s around the bend giving you the impression that you could acquire new information if we were to travel deeper into the scene. Like Olmsted, I don’t like straight lines. All of these elements relax you and stimulate a sense of curiosity.

When I helped design the Met in Providence, I made sure that all of these design principles were manifested in the outside landscape and inside the buildings. Funny thing is that you can read all that has been recently written in the last week about Olmsted and not find a thing about prospect, refuge and mystery. Even, when I talk with architects, designers and landscapers no one has ever heard about what I’m talking about. Not sure what this means but it has always perplexed me that such simple pattern language is not well known or referenced.

Today I’m on an island called Inishbofin off the coast of Ireland. About 300 people live here with about 100 times the number of sheep. It is easy to see how Olmsted’s principles are a pattern reflected in rural life.

In the middle of the week, I spent a few days with Scott Boldt in Belfast. I had never been to Northern Ireland or Belfast before. There’s lots going on in Belfast in terms of music and culture but the main thing that that struck me because of their physical presence are Peace Walls. These walls separate Catholics from Protestants who mostly support aligning with the UK. Scott does and knows the work of trying to reconcile these two groups and although there is talk of these walls coming down, it is very difficult to make happen. Like all places I’ve been with walls separating people, you can walk two blocks away and everything seems normal. Everyone is interacting and as an outsider you really can’t tell that there is a problem but locals know by your name and accent what’s up.

The irony of the wall situation is that going in and out in either direction from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland there are no checkpoints at the borders. You can cross anywhere. So, if you can do that getting into and out of countries and you can hold two passports as well, what’s up with the Peace Walls?

Now it gets complicated.

All good perspective for me about how much work still has to be done all over the world.

Good talks with Viv, Tanya, Andrea and Scott this week about The IBPLC and the momentum that is gathering around a consortium of evaluators who want to work with us on refining and expanding the credential work. We have a moment to take our Learning Goals and convince as many as we can that they are good for all to use as ways to align how a student is smart showing their cultural competence and ingenuity.

Our meeting with The Workforce Development Board in Newark went real. It looks promising that we will be starting The 311 Credential in Newark this summer. Wayback when, we became a vendor in NJ and this is clearing a quick pathway to get The 311 funded. Thanks MR.

Danique and I had our first meeting with NYC Health officials about BPLiving. They are connecting us to the Wellness folks at NYC schools. All good in preparation for next year’s work.

My most surprising talk was with Stephen Patrick from the Aspen Institute and Alexia Everett from the Stuart Foundation. Turns out that both Aspen and Stuart are interested in well-being, meaning and purpose connected to communities where youth are underserved. Shades of B-Unbound, BPLiving and The IBPLC. And as it turns out, these new initiatives have been developing in schools in WA and CA that Stuart is funding. Steve invited us to the Aspen Institute’s upcoming conference and I’m sure there will be lots of further discussions that lead to partnerships and support.

At the wedding I went to last weekend, I met up with Ian Kelly who is now 31 years old. I hadn’t seen him since he was five years old on a farm in the act of saving a breached calf by turning it around under the direction of his dad. That’s farm life and it was a bit much for this city fellow. When I first met Ian it was his first few weeks of kindergarten and he gave me this riddle that I wrote in a chapter of a book.

Ian: Who’s still talking when everyone else stopped listening?

Elliot: I don’t know

Ian: The teacher.

Be well!


Elliot Washor

Co-Founder of Big Picture Learning

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