What are Cultural Landscapes, and why should we care?

boundary waters
via TCLF

A look at the themes behind this year's Landslide list from the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Cultural Landscapes are "landscapes that have been affected, influenced, or shaped by human involvement." According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF),

Cultural landscapes are a legacy for everyone. These special sites reveal aspects of our country’s origins and development as well as our evolving relationships with the natural world. They provide scenic, economic, ecological, social, recreational, and educational opportunities helping communities to better understand themselves.

They are also constantly under serious threat, because people don't think of them the same way people think about buildings; most are considered empty real estate, like this garden at the Frick or this park in Chicago. Every year TCLF produces Landslide, listing the most threatened cultural landscapes. Matt Hickman did a great job of reviewing America's 9 most at-risk open urban spaces on sister site MNN, but this year TCLF goes into detail about the themes, the problems at the cause of our loss of cultural landscapes, the issues behind them.

Resource Extraction

Boundary watersBoundary waters/ TCLF/via

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed relaxing management rules for six monuments, two of which are marine sanctuaries. National monuments are being shrunken or changed to to open them up for mining, fishing and other forms of resource extraction.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, mining has been proposed at the southwestern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, managed by the U.S. Forest Service since 1909 and America’s most visited wilderness area.

Monetization of Open Space

golfing in the park© Audubon Park, New Orleans, LA, photo by Kyle Jacobson and Peter Sommerlin, 2011

Of course everything has to be monetized these days, and who uses public parks anyway?

Urban parks, which Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., called “green lungs,” were initially conceived as democratic spaces that were free and open to all. They were also part of the social compact between the public and the municipalities or other governmental organizations that built and maintained the parks. Over the past several decades, municipal budgets have become increasingly strained, and funds for park maintenance, along with other budgetary line-items deemed of lesser importance, have been slashed.

So in Nashville, parks are being turned into development sites. In New Orleans, they turn into golf courses and dining facilities.

Detrimental Effects of Shadow

From all the supertalls around Central Park to a new complex next to Boston Common,

...zoning regulations are being relaxed or nullified to allow new building construction that casts shadows over parks for longer periods of time, diminishing those elements that contribute to the quality and character of our most cherished public parks and open spaces.

Park Equity

Equity in Chicago© Jackson Park, Chicago, IL, photo by Steven Vance, 2017

Parks were for everyone, of every economic status. (Well, not really; read up about what Robert Moses did, but that was the story). But even if they are a public trust, they are being sliced and diced for other purposes.

In Chicago, for example, more than twenty acres of Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Calvert Vaux, has been confiscated for use by the Obama Presidential Center, a privately owned and operated facility. And at parks in New Orleans, playing fields and cultural venues with high entry fees are replacing freely accessible parkland. Similar scenarios are playing out at sites in Milwaukee, New York City, Nashville, Seattle, and elsewhere.

Devaluation of Cultural Lifeways

devaluation theme© Transmission towers running along the James River, photo by Barrett Doherty, 2017

Sprawl is spreading over ancestral lands of native peoples, civil war sites and others important to African American history. But there is also the impact of energy infrastructure:

Sites and features from the Colonial era are also threatened, such as the James River, where proposed transmission towers would negatively impact historic Jamestown, Colonial National Historical Park, the Colonial Parkway, and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

All of these are a hard sell in a world where everything has a price. You can't have all that land just lying around not earning its keep; there is money to be made. But they keep trying at the Cultural Landscape Foundation; have a look at Matt's coverage, read more and support the Foundation here.

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