The idea of preserving a cultural landscape is a difficult one for many to wrap their heads around. Cultural Landscapes "provide a sense of place and identity; they map our relationship with the land over time; and they are part of our national heritage and each of our lives." Being an architectural preservationist is a tough enough sell these days, but trying to document and defend a designed landscape, like a garden? This is really tough. Look at the current fight over the to save the Russell Page garden at Frick in in New York City; Charles Birnbaum and the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) want to save this landscape masterpiece, but in New York City it is just real estate waiting to be developed. Or the fight in Chicago over the site of the Obama Library, where Birnbaum and TCLF are voices in the wilderness trying to save an Olmsted park. Their work is hugely important but people just don't get it.
That's why one of the wonderful projects that TCLF is working on is their What's Out There database, is so exciting. It's a "searchable, easy-to-navigate database is to raise public awareness of the rich diversity and interconnectedness of our shared designed landscape heritage." When you look at it, a light goes on and you think "I know that place, it's important to me." It's much more than just a park or a monument, but a place of serious cultural and design importance to all of us.
Charles Birnbaum and many of the TCLF board members came up to Toronto recently to host a wonderful conference and a What's Out There weekend, and launch a comprehensive guide to Toronto's cultural heritage landscapes. And just as in the conference I learned all kinds of things about Toronto's history that I never knew, their what's out there guide is full of places I have never been to and many I had never heard of, and I have lived here all my life.
Thanks to our ongoing waterfront redevelopment and a lot of money from real estate developers building condos that need parks and amenities, Toronto is getting new parks and landscapes on a regular basis these days, one could spend weeks just looking at brand new ones before you even get into the history.
If you are coming to Toronto, study this first. It's even more important if you live in Toronto, to find these treasures you probably never knew existed. Great work from the Cultural Landscape Foundation, and thanks so much for coming here.
Check out the entire database of "1,700 entries, with content created by academics, volunteers, and advocates, vetted over the past decade by dozens of researchers and historians" on the Cultural Landscape Foundation site.