Conservancy Head Wins Olmsted Medal


by Eddie Small, Courant News Writer

Charles River Conservancy President Renata von Tscharner nou’has something in common with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: both have won the Olmsted Medal from the Amcrican Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

Carter and his wife Rosalynn got the award in 2001, while von Tcharner received hers on November 18 at the ASLA Annual Conference in Boston. She was not expecting the honor.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I did not know I had been nominated.”

The ASLA gives the Olmsted Medal to individuals, groups or programs that have demonstrated environmental leadership. It is meant to honor famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose legacy in Boston includes the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park.

Other notable recipients of the award include AI Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

One of the achievements von Tscharner said she was especially proud of occurred this summer, when the Conservancy held the first public community swim in the Charles River in more than 50 years. The activity had been banned since the 1950s due to health concerns.

“That’s something the Conservancy has been working on for a long time, to have a swim,” von Tscharner said.

ln her prepared remarks for accepting the award, von Tscharner emphasized Olmsted’s fondness for creating uninterrupted paths in his parks and the need to apply this thinking to the Charles River.

“Just as Olmsted’s work on the Muddy River was part of a massive sewage project, today we again need to link infrastructure investments — the bridges for motorcars –with underpasses that benefit pedestrians and bikers,” she said.

von Tscharner stressed the importance of linking parks with physical activity-as well. She said that she believed Olmsted would have been in favor of building a skate park, a project the Conservancy is working to construct along the Cambridge side of the Charles under the Zakim Bridge.

Tani Marinovich, director of development at The Esplanade Association (TEA), was very complimentary of von Tscharner and referred to her as “an inspiration” while working on the Esplanade Playspace. TEA Board Chair Margo Newman felt the same way.

“Renata has a well-deserved reputation as a passionate defender of vital and healthy Charles River Basin parklands,” she said in an email. “We all admire her tenacity and commitment. The parklands – and the river – are better and more fun because of Renata.”

Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, was just as approving of the Conservancy as a whole and its efforts at maintaining the park system along the Charles.

“They treat it as a real landscape, you know? A park that needs some help and human loving care, and they provide it,” he said.  “That’s a great thing.”

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