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Bridging the Nature/Culture Divide with Ecological Restoration

By Guest Observer July 28, 2016

By Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada
Courtesy: Jon Weller

Lately, many members of the conservation community have been asking the question of how we resolve the dissonance in our thinking between the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. One area where this question is being dealt with in an engaging way is within the field of ecological restoration. What the dialogue happening within this field demonstrates is that far from being antagonistic towards each other, as it is often portrayed, the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ can be intricately intertwined and mutually reinforcing.

Restoration ecology is a practice that has traditionally sought to return disturbed natural environments to what they were before a point of human disturbance. But, this is increasingly recognized as an unlikely goal. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that there has never been an original point of pre-human contact to return to, and secondly, in a world where anthropogenic change is pushing flora and fauna far beyond their historical range it is “futile to try to restore past conditions.”1 Therefore, contemporary restoration ecologists do not aim to ‘recreate’ the past, so much as to reestablish the historical trajectory of an impaired ecosystem in order for it to continue its evolution.

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago  Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago
Courtesy: Jon Weller

More than a changing understanding of the role of history, however, the field has also broadened its mandate beyond the natural world. What is being called ‘comprehensive ecological restoration’ is an approach to intervening in ecological systems that takes as its goal the recovery of the entire socio-ecological system. A comprehensive approach recognizes that, if successful, its efforts contribute to the overall well-being of the ecosystem and the societies that rely on them by renewing economic opportunities, rejuvenating traditional cultural practices, and enhancing ecological and social resilience to environmental change.2 Emphasizing this broader picture pushes ecological restoration into the realm of what alternative fields understand as cultural landscape management. Furthermore, a broader mandate injects an important element of transparency, engagement, and communication with citizens and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of interventions.

Off the west coast of Canada, on a small island in the Gulf Islands archipelago, The Galiano Conservancy Association offers an exciting model of how traditional nature conservation, can, and is, being transformed by these dialogues and practices. Formed in 1989 with a mission “[t]o preserve, protect and enhance the quality of the human and natural environment” on Galiano Island, the Galiano Conservancy Association was one of BC’s first community-based land trusts.3

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network
Courtsey: Jon Weller

Originally organized as an “instrument for community-based acquisition, management and conservation of land and habitat,” the Conservancy has successfully protected important ecological communities through direct land purchase and cooperative partnerships. It conducts work such as extensive long-term biological monitoring; but it has also grown to take on a broader range of activities than traditional conservation organizations that focus on the preservation of relatively intact ecosystems. This work includes the stewardship and restoration of ecosystems, (much of the island’s land was degraded through intensive logging operations) as well as efforts to educate the public and raise awareness of sustainable human relationships with the natural world. Instead of simply seeing their sites as degraded ecosystems, the Conservancy has embraced the history of human habitation (and degradation), not by preserving it in the sense of a cultural landscape, but rather by documenting it, allowing it to remain, incorporating it into educational programming, and refashioning it in contemporary ways such as establishing food forests on earlier agricultural land.

Galiano Island Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano Island
Courtsey: Jon Weller

The management of a multi-use landscapes is most certainly a complex and complicated process, but because of the kind of activities that are available it is possible, in the words of Conservancy Board Member Lorne Wilkinson, to “begin to create a model of how we might bring together natural systems and human systems in ways that are mutually reinforcing” and serves also to educate “people in their relationship to the natural world.”4 More than simply a protected natural or cultural landscape, the Conservancy’s properties are an ongoing example of how the restoration and conservation of natural and cultural systems can be integrated in a sustainable way. Such a model for community-led restoration of ecological systems, where the cultural connections to the land are deeply connected to all of the activities, offers a compelling case for reconciling the division between nature and culture.

1) Luis Balaguer, Adrián Escudero, José F. Martín-Duque, Ignacio Mola, and James Aronson, “The historical reference in restoration ecology: Re-defining a cornerstone concept,” Biological Conservation 176 (2014): 13.

2) Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group, The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration, Society for Ecological Restoration International (Tucson, AZ, 2004)

3) Galiano Conservancy Association, “Our Mission.” http://galianoconservancy.ca/our-mission#Purposes (accessed 18 June 2015)

4) Deborah Curran, Resource Guide to Collaborative Conservation Planning (Galiano, BC: Galiano Conservancy Association, 2013), 8.

Jon Weller is a researcher and heritage advocate from the University of Victoria where he studies alternative approaches for culture-based land and resource management. This article was first presented as a paper at the University of Massachusetts’ 2016 conference ‘Nature/Culture: Heritage in Context’ in Prague

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Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

By Brenda Barrett June 29, 2016
Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What happens when a highway project long planned to improve the functionality of the overall transportation system runs up against newer approaches of planning on a landscape scale? I recently spoke to this issue at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage   (June  6-8, 2016 Lewisburg PA). The project in question, the  Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project (CSVT) ,  was under construction nearby and involved a bypass and a major new bridge crossing over the Susquehanna River. It  was planned to remedy traffic congestion on the one of the state’s major north south corridors and reroute through traffic, particularly truck traffic, out of small towns in the region.  But the project’s history was anything, but straightforward.

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Planning for the project began long ago with the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the selected alignment approved in 2003. After project design was underway, it was put on hold due to lack of funding. With the passage of a new funding package in 2013, the project was reactivated. However, during that ten-year hiatus ideas about the cultural and natural values in the region had undergone a substantial shift. The project now crossed through the Susquehanna Greenway , a 500 miles state greenway. This section of the river was now designated as a National Recreational Trail by the Secretary of the Interior. And most significantly, the river corridor was incorporated into the CaptainJohn Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Originally authorized by Congress in 2006, its goals was to help the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his impact upon the rich American Indian cultures and to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of this national treasure. The trail now extends up the many of the tributaries of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

When long delayed construction of the CSVT  was announced, all of these new designations brought new partners to the table  seeking to conserve landscape scale cultural and natural resources in the project area – resources that had not even been envisioned in 2003. The traditional transportation planning approach had been to identify individual historic or archeological sites and the specific location of a threatened flora or faunal species and then avoid or mitigate site specific impacts. Now this whole approach was being called into question. In the case of the CSVT compromises were negotiated and in particular minimization strategies were developed to reduce impact on the Susquehanna River crossing, provide additional public access, and offer more consultation on riverfront development in the future.

btn15_mapBut what about the next time?  To begin with we need to recast our perspective to embrace a larger landscape approach. If the one of purposes of planning for infrastructure development such as transportation projects is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on cultural and natural resources and maximizes the benefit to the public, then we need to stay abreast of the new frameworks by which these disciplines define themselves.

Let’s start with Natural Resources. The field has long used an ecosystem approach, which understands the importance of the interaction of organisms with their wider physical environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on large landscapes  tackled the central question of the best way to conserve the natural world noting that conservation challenges exceed the capacity of any single entity or protected habitat. Increased urbanization, extreme weather events, and fragmentation of habitat threaten both flora and fauna require that resource conservation take a broad landscape scale approach and build in connectivity for species to migrate and have room to range. So, it is not enough to avoid the spot where an endangered species was last spotted. What is needed is to predict where it is going, where can it thrive in the future.

Things are also shifting in the world of Cultural Resources. Historic preservation practioners know that that the discipline has moved from identifying individual landmarks to considering historic districts and now whole landscapes. The National Park Service has been a leader in calling for this re-examination of cultural landscape approach. Our commonwealth has also been in the forefront  develop ing a comprehensive multiple property documentation for the   Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania, a good example of evaluating a complex living landscape. It is true that cultural resources are not going to migrate or fly away, but we need to accept that they are more dynamic and larger than our past concepts of what is significant. Cultural resources are best understood in a larger context that tells the whole story.

Finally, Recreational Resources are also being viewed through a wide angled lens.In the middle Atlantic many rivers and stream system are being developed into a statewide network of water trails. Former rail lines and canals are now the backbone of  trail systems running for hundreds of miles across the state. And of course the National Park Service manages National Scenic and Historic Trails system that crisscross the whole country. The most iconic being the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and a chunk of PA in between. The connectivity of these resources is critical.  Once a trail crossing is severed, it may be impossible or at best expensive to reconnect.

 This new larger perspective presents management challenges, but there are also new regional partnerships to help coordinate these regional geographies. For example, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate in having a whole host of such organizations. The list includes multiple National Heritage Areas and a robust state heritage areas with 12 designated areas dedicated to melding natural, cultural and  recreational objectives along with community revitalization goals. The states’ Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched 7 conservation landscapes to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. And the agency has taken a leadership role in statewide recreational resource planning.

In addition, land trusts and other regionally focused land conservation groups have been expanding rapidly – a survey a number of years ago counted over 130 of such initiatives in New England alone as well as the newly launched “Practioner’s Network for Large Landscapes”. The National Academy of Science ‘s 2015 report identified over 20 federal programs that are utilizing a landscape approach in the Department of Interior, of course, but also in agriculture and defense.

There are some difficulties as the older paradigms about place and partnerships have expanded.  Our project management skills and our regulatory tools have yet to catch up to this new way of thinking. While there are no overnight fixes and project planners will always have to play catch up,  I do want to conclude with a couple of specific suggestions:

1) Harness the power of big data – Big data is defined as large (or extremely large) data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The good news is that this is an area where transportation planners have been early adopters using GIS mapping in particular. But more can be done, for example,  adding the layers for rivers and trails, and other resources identified by partnership organizations. This will provide a leg up in project scoping. To get a taste of what these data bases can offer, take a look at the work of Landscope Chesapeake.  A data base that shows all the public lands and privately protected areas, trails and access points and also links in the conservation partners and state program. What a great place to begin high level 30,000-foot infrastructure planning.

2) Harness the Power of Partnerships – While much talked about, this is not easy to accomplish. And It also can seem like a burdensome add-on to what is an already crowded project planning schedule. But let’s look at the practical side,  effective public input or even better public engagement is both required as part of project planning and can make the project go more smoothly. Many of the heritage areas, land trusts, recreation organizations and conservation landscapes have identified significant resources and developed resource management plans with extensive public input.  They know what is important to the impacted region. This is great way for infrastructure planners to identify potential challenges and opportunities as well as reaching many of people who live on the ground where a project is happening.

3) Harness the power of other programs – Everyone should take a lesson from productive partnership organizations and look for the sweet spots where multiple objectives intersect. And note – this does not mean that one partner pays all – success is when projects integrate public and private dollars along with volunteer energy to deliver better communities. So think outside the box who else might have a stake in the ground? A good way to start is with an interagency approach. Who else is planning something in the region how can their work be coordinated with infrastructure development? What is in their budget and how can dollars be leveraged? High level planning that is open to new ideas is one way of accomplish these ends.

In conclusion, If I have one concern, it is that much of our planning in the past has zeroed in way too soon on way too small geography and then come up with the three least bad alternatives. Perhaps it would behoove us to spend a little more time in the stratosphere  identifying partner and programs that can help everyone be successful and accomplish their respective missions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jeju Island Korea Hosts International Experts on Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett November 20, 2015
The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

Cultural landscapes are often defined as geographic areas of natural and cultural resources with associated historical, cultural and or aesthetic values. One way to sharpen our focus on the components of a landscape is to experience the combination of these resources through a new lens. Jeju Island is a spectacular place to do this. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju is a volcanic island 56 miles off the coast of the South Korean mainland. Some of the island’s most outstanding natural features have been designated as the country’s only natural world heritage listing, otherwise known as the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007).

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls  Jeju Island

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls Jeju Island

The island’s cultural landscapes, although not yet listed, are also very distinctive. For centuries residents have carved fields out of the rocky soil creating thousands of kilometers of still extant stonewalls. The underlying basalt was also used for clusters of farmhouses in villages around the island and for massive fortifications to protect it’s shores. The sea has always been an important part of the region’s life. Today, Jeju has been discovered as a tourist destination for the beaches, the natural wonders, and more recently the rural landscape. Over 10 million tourists visit Jeju a year, which for an island with a population of 600,000, places a lot of stress on the limited resource base. A recent initiative strives to spread the visitors around through the development of walking trails known as Olles.  These well maintained trails direct visitors both along the coast and also off the beaten path to scenic overlooks and into traditional villages and agricultural areas through the use of signs.

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes
Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

This island of scenic beauty, rich heritage and future opportunities, offered a remarkable setting for the November 2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). A meeting at which the conversation centered around the aesthetics of landscapes, connecting the practice of nature and cultural conservation, and an initiative to advance the understanding and conservation of world rural landscapes . The setting for the gathering could not have been more appropriate–it was held overlooking the water at the Haenyo Museum, a facility dedicated to telling the story of the islands’ famous women divers. The mingling of historical, cultural, and natural resources and memories evoked a powerful sense of place and support for conserving more sites such as this.

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life Jeju Stone Park

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life
Jeju Stone Park

An international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life followed on the committee meeting and attracted over 200 participants. While many were from the Pacific Rim countries, there were also presenters from all over the globe. It was particularly encouraging to see so many excellent papers on cultural landscapes by graduate students and young professionals. The symposium was held at the famous Jeju Stone Park on the slopes of the island’s huge shield volcano, Mount Hallasan. Attendees were offered a number of tours of the key sites on the island including two of the world heritage sites: the Manjanggul Lava Tubes and Seongsan Peak. Both events were organized by the hard work of ICOMOS-Korea with special thanks to Professor Jongsang Sung the head of the Korean ISCCL, the many sponsors he attracted for the event, and of course, his hard working students.

Does this sound like an amazing opportunity to learn more about cultural landscapes? For those with an interest in placing cultural landscapes in an international context consider these upcoming events in 2016: The World Conservation Congress (WCC) meeting, and the conference Capability Brown: perception and response in a global context. The WCC will be meeting in Hawaii in early September 2016 where congress planners will consider a range of sessions that explore the connection between cultural and natural resources. In the same month, on the other side of the globe, ICOMOS UK will hold the capability conference in Bath. The conference celebrates the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s (Lancelot Brown) birth with an opportunity to reflect on his work in an international context.

If you are in the United States, or even if you are not, consider joining US ICOMOS. Support our international mission and stay informed about cultural landscape work at a global scope. This topic will be a focus of the organization’s new initiative for 2016 known as the Cultural Landscape Knowledge Exchange.

Finally, US ICOMOS is launching a National Committee on Cultural Landscapes. We plan to have gatherings at selected upcoming conferences to share information and build a community of practitioners. If you are interested in getting on the list, please email me at bbarrett@livinglandscapeobserver.net or our US ICOMOS ISCCL voting member Nora Mitchell at norajmitchell@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can Parks Organizations Continue to Ignore Social Values in Landscape Stewardship?

By Guest Observer May 25, 2015

By Paulette Wallace

Credit: Paulette Wallace

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Credit: Paulette Wallace

‘Social value’ is not a term that national park organizations in the United States, Canada and New Zealand have tended to use. In fact, when park organizations have ventured into the challenging territory of recognizing the values of people―it has generally been to consider the values of ‘traditional peoples and practices’ of a distant bygone era, or to subsume the social into the consideration of historic significance.

I use social value here, to denote social connections, networks, place attachments—not necessarily related to historic significance, which can include various stakeholders, interest and ethnic groups, and can involve individuals and/or collectives. It is at this point where some might argue that national park organizations have the primary purpose of preserving nature and national identity—therefore, any consideration of social values which might destabilize this mission, or confuse its fixed and constant agenda, has no place within the remit of a national park organization.

My response to this—is that an impression of this kind is exceedingly outdated, and it has been proven to be outmoded by the parks organizations themselves. For example, the US National Park Service is currently establishing an ‘urban agenda’ in time for its 2016 centenary, to address how the organization might better engage with its communities; and Parks Canada have been developing the ‘national urban park’ to embrace a less ‘pristine’ park environment in a populous Toronto area. These recent initiatives underline how park organizations recognize the need to evolve, and they demonstrate a growing interest in establishing closer relationships with the people who engage with their parks. Yet the initiative adopted by park organizations that I wish to discuss in more detail here, is the use of cultural landscapes as a tool for heritage management.

Cultural landscapes are commonly described as being a bridge between nature and culture—they are places where natural and cultural heritage values collide, and for the last 20-30 years, the US National Park Service and Parks Canada have been leading the way in identifying and managing cultural landscapes as part of their cultural resource management programs. While in New Zealand, the Department of Conservation (DOC) holds the prestige of being the manager of the first cultural landscape inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1993.

Credit: Paulette Wallace

Elders of the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe with the Author. Credit: Paulette Wallace

Nevertheless, while the embrace of cultural landscapes demonstrates the park organizations’ commitment to keeping up with changing perceptions of natural and cultural heritage, the way that cultural landscapes have been applied are heavily informed by static, entrenched policies of the past. These policies essentially negate the potential of cultural landscapes to promote new approaches to park management that recognize the way that people actively engage with their surroundings.

For instance, the cultural landscapes management policies developed by the US National Park Service focus on how to manage the physical form of an assembly of cultural resources, and they organize cultural landscapes into ‘landscape characteristics’ that recognize mainly visible tangible aspects. Parks Canada follows a similar approach, where its cultural landscapes are made up of ‘character-defining elements’, and while it does also promote the notion of ‘aboriginal cultural landscapes’ as not so determined by the tangible, Parks Canada applies this independently from the ‘character-defining elements’ used in its non-indigenous cultural landscapes program.

Credit: Creative Commons

Tongariro National Park New Zealand

Then in New Zealand, DOC might be described as paying lip service to the social values of Tongariro National Park in its identification of it as a cultural landscape, while failing to recognize these values in the day-to-day management of the park. DOC supported the inscription of Tongariro National Park on the World Heritage list recognizing the associative values of the iwi (tribe) of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and their relationship to Mount Tongariro―which added to the park’s existing inscription for its natural values. Yet a recent Treaty of Waitangi report has found among other things, that the New Zealand government has disregarded the cultural and social values of Māori in carrying out the management of the park, and it recommends that the park be taken out of DOC control and managed in the future by a statutory authority made up of representatives from the government and Māori.

Therefore, as we settle into the twenty-first century and prepare to welcome 100 years of the US National Park Service, there is a need for park organizations to include the public who represent their various park communities, in decision making so that there might be a new generation of joint ambassadors recognizing the social values of people in the landscape stewardship of the future.

For further discussion on how American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand park organizations have been employing cultural landscapes as a tool for heritage management, see:
Wallace, P 2015, ‘Approaching cultural landscapes in post-settler societies: ideas, policies, practices’, submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

Paulette Wallace is the recently named Executive Officer for the Australian Convict Sites, a serial World Heritage property made up of 11 sites around Australia.

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Letter from Woodstock: The Presidio Matters

By Guest Observer March 2, 2014

by Rolf Diamant

(Originally printed in the George Wright Forum, Volume 30, N0. 13, 2013)

A few years ago, I suggested at a regional superintendents’ meeting that US national parks were facing a paradoxical future. This was, I said, an era of unprecedented changes and challenges but also, in many ways, a golden age for the National Park Service (NPS)—as it was an organization becoming more sophisticated, focused, and better trained than it has ever been in the past.  More than a few of my colleagues in the room did not agree with this assessment or at least objected to my choice of words as they complained about their operating budget shortfalls, staffing vacancies, various bureaucratic obstacles, and workloads. I couldn’t disagree with any of that—as a superintendent, I was working through similar problems in my own park—but I thought we should recognize that the park system was still growing in many positive directions.  Park superintendents, overall, were becoming more emotionally intelligent and adept at dealing with complexity. New, more inclusive, and successful community engagement strategies were being developed.  Partners were increasingly more nimble and capable and across the park system pockets of useful experimentation and innovation were able to flourish.

Credit: Dan Stern

The Inn at the Presidio, a 22-room restored property

In my sixth “Letter from Woodstock,” I will take a closer look at one of those nodes of useful experimentation and innovation, the Presidio of San Francisco. The 1,500-acre former military post is national parkland managed jointly by the federally chartered Presidio Trust and NPS, nested within the much larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The trust manages about 80% of the Presidio (most historic buildings); NPS is responsible for the other 20% (mostly shoreline property around Crissy Field) and has legislative authorization to provide interpretive services, visitor orientation, and educational programs throughout the Presidio in cooperation with the trust.  (For the record, I worked for Golden Gate about 35 years ago on its first general management plan and I still keep up a membership in the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit partner that supports and assists the Golden Gate National Parks.)

Congress established the trust in 1996 as an independent government corporation with a mandate to manage the Presidio, find new uses for its nearly 800 structures (5.9 million square feet of useable space), and become financially self-sufficient within 15 years—a milestone that the trust reports it has now achieved.  By any measure the Presidio represents one of the most ambitious experiments in public park-making, urban design, and multi-sector cooperation anywhere in the world.  There have been base closures and transitions in other places, but given the distinctive nature of the Presidio, with its vast number of historic structures (over 400), its storied cultural landscape, and the immense urban infrastructure associated with it all, the scale of this undertaking is profoundly different and consequential.

The metrics of Presidio’s ongoing transformation are impressive by any measure. Today much of the residential and non-residential property in the Presidio has been renovated, leased, or rented, and 7,000 people live or work in a spectacular national park setting that attracts, according to the trust, approximately 5 million visitors annually. Three hundred-fifty historic buildings have been renovated, housing thousands of residents and some 225 organizations. The Presidio has been called the largest historic preservation project in the country and it probably is.

On a recent visit to the Presidio, I also saw stream restoration and reforestation projects, a newly built system of pedestrian and bike trails, an urban campground, and several spectacular scenic overlooks.  The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has been the trust’s principal nonprofit partner for much of this impressive park development. I think it is safe to say that the scale and pace of this transformation is without precedent in the modern national park system.

So what can be learned from the Presidio at this point in time?  While many of Presidio Trust’s circumstances and authorities are unique and cannot be easily replicated or adapted, I would direct attention to at least three developments that may have broader application:

  • The Presidio is demonstrating approaches to sustainable city living and sustainable park design, and the two can be merged to offer new ideas for adaptation and resiliency.  One noteworthy example is the revitalization of the 36-acre Presidio Public Health Service District, including the rehabilitation of a derelict six-story hospital and adjacent campus buildings for rental housing, office space, and a school.  Through environmental remediation and by adding new walking trails and overlooks, the Public Health Service District has also further enhanced the national park values of the Presidio. This neighborhood has come back to life with help of NPS-administered preservation tax credits and is the first historic landmark property to be certified by the US Green Building Council as “LEED for Neighborhood Development” for “smart growth, urbanism and green building.”
  • There is an opportunity at the Presidio to evaluate the reciprocal benefits of private and public investments. Repopulating the Presidio with people who live and work there along with shared neighborhood amenities (such as landscaping, public seating, cafés, and shops) encourages expanded recreational use as the public perceives the Presidio as a lively, attractive, and safe environment.  Similarly, the public projects (such as natural area restoration, bikeways, and overlooks) enhance the Presidio as a desirable place to live and work.
  • The governance model of the Presidio Trust has both strengths and weaknesses.  While much can be learned from how the trust carries out its work, particular attention needs to be focused on its relationship with NPS, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  In the absence of a more structured partnership codified by statute (such as having Golden Gate National Recreation Area formally represented on the trust’s board of directors,) the partnership’s success depends a great deal on leadership, personality, and good will.  It would be instructive to better understand what confidence-building measures and other tools can be used to strengthen and periodically refresh the level of trust, cooperation, and shared vision essential to the health and robustness of the partnership.

The relationship has not always been an easy one between the trust and NPS, particularly in the early years. NPS and park advocates were unhappy with the 1996 Presidio Trust Act that had the trust report to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. NPS would be consulted, but would have no direct oversight. There were further worries that the congressional mandate for the Presidio to be financially self-sustaining in 15 years might later be applied to other parks in the system.  And finally, there was the fear of an even more troubling potential precedent: the reversion section in the act (which would only be invoked if the trust failed) would transfer trust-managed property, not to NPS, but to the General Services Administration, to be withdrawn from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and sold. Beyond misgivings about the legislation, NPS may have been uneasy about the broad authorities granted to the trust by Congress and the trust’s early focus on the real-estate side of its mission. Even today the Presidio is featured on the NPS home page, but curiously there is no mention of the Presidio Trust or link to its programs. For its part, the trust had plenty of trouble finding its own footing in the relationship. Looking at the trust’s annual report released ten years ago, the only collaborative projects with NPS and the conservancy appear to have been water monitoring and songbird inventories. Not so now: this year’s annual report credits the Presidio’s success to  “a strong collaboration” with NPS and the conservancy, the “principal organizational partners” of the trust.

This shift in tone reflects a maturing partnership.  But I suspect that the conservancy has also played an outsized role in facilitating more mutually beneficial cooperation.  Serving as the non-profit partner and cooperating association for both the Presidio Trust and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the conservancy has raised and invested substantial resources in a seamless network of new trails, overlooks, and other world-class visitor and educational facilities shared by both.  Both NPS and the trust had a major stake in the outcome of the conservancy’s hugely successful rescue and revitalization of Crissy Field, and likewise both will share in the many benefits to be derived from the recent gift of $25 million from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation to the conservancy. These funds will create 10 acres of parkland over a newly buried roadway, connecting the Presidio’s historic Main Post with Crissy Field’s marsh and waterfront. The gift will also expand the activities of the Crissy Field Center serving both the park and Presidio as “a nationally recognized program hub for youth engagement in environmental learning and community betterment.”  Reflecting the spirit of this cooperation, more and more signs are appearing bearing the logo of all three organizations—perhaps a modest but symbolic indicator of a new willingness to co-brand and share credit for the enormous transformation that is occurring.

The ultimate success of the Presidio, however, will be largely determined by attaining and holding on to what I call the “sweet spot” in the Presidio Trust’s delicate balancing act of maintaining financial health while continuing to make the Presidio accessible and welcoming to the public, including people from diverse and underserved communities around the Bay Area. Success will also be determined by the trust’s commitment to building a new kind of national park that has, as stated in its mission, “broad relevance” to the larger world and invests in such purposes as “environmental learning and community betterment.”  The “sweet spot” is realized when there is a clear alignment of goals and where the enactment of each part of the Presidio’s mission strengthens and adds value to the other parts. However, this is never going to be easy or non-controversial.

A case in point is the trust’s request for proposals (RFP) for the “Mid-Crissy” area of the Presidio to establish a “cultural institution of international distinction.”  The project would repurpose the former post commissary site and utilize the newly created parkland connecting the Main Post to Crissy Field.  The site, with its commanding views of the Golden Gate, is the Presidio’s keystone. Whatever is built, according to the RFP’s guidelines, must “integrate well with plans for Crissy Field and the Main Post” and “welcome a broad cross-section of the community in a manner that reflects and reaffirms the public nature of the Presidio.”

One of the two leading contenders in the RFP process has been film director George Lucas, who is proposing to construct the “Lucas Cultural Arts Museum,” a 93,000-square-foot building “highlighting populist art from some of the great illustrators of the last 150 years through today’s digital art.”  In an interim review of the proposals, the trust praised the generosity of George Lucas, who has offered to pay for and endow the museum with his own funds, and noted the broad appeal of the museum’s educational opportunities. The trust raised serious concerns, however, over the proposed Lucas museum’s “massing and height and its architectural style design” which the urban design critic of the San Francisco Chronicle has described as “boilerplate Beaux Arts, ornamentation without imagination.”  The trust also questioned the degree to which the Lucas museum would stand apart from its national park environment, not creating the “programmatic connections that would add value to other park programs throughout the Presidio.”

The other leading RFP contender is the trust’s own partner, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The conservancy has proposed building a “Presidio Exchange,” a  “park-based cultural center that creates, curates, and hosts unique public experiences at the Presidio … that are Presidio-themed, participatory, and cross-disciplinary.”  The Exchange is designed as a highly versatile performance and learning venue, taking cues from some of the nation’s newest and most successful cultural spaces, such as New York City’s Highline Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park.

In their interim review, the trust recognized the conservancy’s exceptional contributions to the Presidio and throughout Golden Gate National Recreation Area and especially its “ethos of partnership in the public interest.”  The trust commended the conservancy’s approach to the Exchange as “varied, flexible and relevant” but asked for a clearer “master narrative” and more information on public programming.

When all is said and done, the conservancy is offering the Presidio a remarkable opportunity.  There are many parts that make up the new Presidio—emerging neighborhoods, distinctive campuses, and newly preserved landscapes. The Exchange would significantly enhance the Presidio’s overall visibility and coherence as a great public park. Building on all the good work that has already been accomplished, the Exchange has the potential, as well, to position the Presidio in the vanguard of a 21st-century national park system that is working to become more inclusive, more collaborative, and more relevant.

The decision on this RFP will not be the first time the Presidio Trust has had to seek out that “sweet spot” under intense scrutiny and political pressure, nor will it be the last.  With the challenge of self-sufficiency now met, however, it will be a bell weather test of Trust’s fidelity to its public mission and will do much to shape the ultimate contours of the Presidio’s character as a national park.

Given the magnitude and breath of this remarkable 15-year transition from “post to park,” and the many important choices still to be made, I think it is time to give the Presidio greater recognition as a valuable part of our national park system.

A great urban national park laboratory has been created at the Presidio for perfecting sustainable practices in environmental remediation and recovery, historic preservation and park design. Just as importantly, the Presidio is also an opportunity to experiment with new approaches to partnership, community building and civic stewardship.  We should take advantage of all that can be learned – particularly the positive interaction of what we have too often chosen to segregate – nature and culture, public and private, recreation and work, urban and open spaces.

It is time to pay more attention.

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The Value of a Backward Glance

By Brenda Barrett September 30, 2013
Credit: NPS

Yellowstone National Park Fires 1988. Photo: NPS

I came upon the Retro Report while doing a little review of news stories on the ups and downs of federal fire policy. Launched this year (2013) as a nonprofit news organization, the Retro Report revisits headline stories from the past from the perspective of today. Their mission statement notes that: “With journalistic success increasingly measured in page views, retweets and Facebook likes, there is dwindling interest or ability among news organizations to follow up on the stories they cover. Complicating matters, the first draft of history can be wrong. When news organizations fail to invest the time and money required to correct the record or provide context around what really happened, myth can replace truth. The results are policy decisions and cultural trends built on error, misunderstanding or flat-out lies.”

This is strong stuff and the report has already produced multiple attention grabbing stories from the past in a 10 to 20 minute video format. It interviews the experts, reviews outcomes and changes in national policy, and looks at the long-term consequences. “Summer of Fire” follows the story and the aftermath of the massive fires in Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1988. It is not quite as riveting as some of the Retro Reports work on social issues, but it does a good job of contrasting the alarmist news coverage at the time with the calm iteration of National Park’s policy by then Superintendent Bob Barbee among others. Also, it tracks the head snapping change in tone as  news reporters marveled at nature’s regenerative power the next spring.

Recent events have reinforced the fact that that the role of fire in creating our landscape is still not well understood. Wildfires and fire management are certainly not something that can be condensed into a nightly news headline. So congratulations to the Retro Report – the nation deserves more of this kind of thoughtful coverage.

It also got me to thinking. With the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS) on the horizon, how can we share more stories on the complexity of caring for our cultural landscapes and treasured protected areas with the people that pay the tab? The George Wright Society has done an in depth job of examining the issues facing the NPS in their Centennial Essay.  How can we take some of these important ideas and air them on a larger stage? Interpreting climate change in parks, the difficulty of engaging audiences that look like America, the role of communities and public lands, and the agency’s changing philosophy on park management, all could be gist for a Retro Report type of analysis.

Clearly, there is a public appetite for going beyond simple celebratory sound bites…we need to help set that table.

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Finding a fit for cultural landscapes: Is it “preservation” or “conservation”?

By Guest Observer April 30, 2013

By Paulette Wallace

As an offshore visitor attending the recent George Wright Society conference: “Protected areas in a changing world,” in Denver in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions focus sing on the cultural elements of protected areas management. What made the presentations all the more exciting was that the concept of “cultural landscapes” was a frequent topic of discussion. On at least three occasions, (and despite the sequester), I heard of the United States National Park Service’s efforts to revitalize the toolkit it employs for the identification and management of cultural landscapes. As part of how this “revitalization” might be enacted, US Park staff were working to have cultural landscapes included as a distinct property type within the National Register of Historic Places criteria. It was also conveyed that staff were working to enable greater recognition of National Heritage Areas for cultural landscape management.

Yet, while these initiatives were widely supported, Hugh Miller, a stalwart of the cultural landscape movement in the United States, drew attention to the view that any innovation for the identification and management of cultural landscapes is impeded by the existence of “preservation” at the heart of the US Park Service’s system of cultural resource management. My interpretation of preservation recognises that the term has traditionally been concerned with properties and districts of architectural and/or historical significance. The term is fabric focused and suggestive of minimising change to the original configuration, arresting the tangible to a certain point in time, and closing the heritage item off to all external forces. People’s feelings and ideas of connection to place do not automatically associate with my ideas of what preservation encompasses. This kind of understanding of preservation does not lend itself to the concept of cultural landscapes where change is inherent, and where cultural landscapes look to the future with an eye to the past, rather than capturing a date, or era from that past.

In contrast, “conservation” is the guiding term that I am familiar with in my part of the world. In Australia and New Zealand our heritage management systems are led by “conservation” – “conservation” is not the same thing as “preservation”. Rather than focusing on arresting change, conservation connotes a more processual approach to caring for heritage for the future. Conservation also seems to be more open and connected to cultural significance – people’s feelings and connections to place. To conserve is to accept that change and progress may be necessary. It is perhaps also a term that sits more easily across the natural and the cultural, and one which might also be more aligned with indigenous heritage perspectives.

Therefore, if our understandings of what heritage involves in today’s “changing world” are growing exponentially to mirror the mounting complexity and diversity of surrounding social and economic forces, then the ways and means for managing that heritage also necessitates a more open and inclusive approach. Cultural landscape provides a useful tool, yet at the same time it is restricted by falling under the direction of preservation. If the US Park Service is serious about cultural landscapes to support the management of the vernacular, ethnographic, and the indigenous, in addition to the more standard historically designed landscapes, than perhaps cultural landscapes needs to function as a management category that sits between “Natural Resource Management” and “Cultural Resource Management”. Then if this could be achieved, there needs to a further adjustment of the terminology to support “Bio-Cultural Landscapes” as the section heading.

Paulette Wallace is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is investigating how the major parks agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America are engaging with the concept of cultural landscapes for heritage management. Paulette worked as a historic ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation before moving to full-time study in March 2011.

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Cultural Landscapes: The View from George Wright 2013

By Brenda Barrett March 28, 2013

In one sense, almost every session at the 2013 George Wright Conference  talked about cultural landscapes. If you define the term broadly – as landscapes affected by the interaction of humans and the environment – then sessions on climate change and adaptation, visitor use, tourism, extractive industries, integrating parks and local communities, and any session or keynote address with the word “anthopocene” in its title fall squarely within this rubric.  There were also sessions that directly examined the meaning of cultural landscapes.   For example:

The panel on Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: Developing a more Inclusive Approach to Large Landscape Conservation presented a concept that is being pioneered in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The approach seeks to identify and describe landscapes from the perspective of indigenous people who lived there at the time of Captain John Smith’s explorations of the bay region. Want to know more ? If you were not able to attend, you can watch Deanna Beacham’s thoughtful and concise presentation of this idea on youtube.

Jim Zorn, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Indian and Wildlife Commission,  talked about the commission’s work to conserve Ojibwe traditional rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice and other resources on lands ceded by treaty. The organization represents eleven tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and provides natural resource management expertise and conservation enforcement. Their work has expanded to cultural programing including language conservation programs.  And who knew that the NOAA was doing such innovative programs with tribes in Marine Protected Areas.  The agency’s Cultural Heritage Resources Working Group has been making waves in the world of maritime cultural landscapes.

For those who are into trend spotting, new ideas in cultural landscapes include the interest of traditional conservation agencies in expanding their mission to include cultural values and in particular to incorporate the indigenous viewpoint into conservation work.  We can all learn from this.

The 2013 George Wright (GW) conference was challenged by the congressional budget sequester that knocked almost all federal employees off the agenda. However, the conference presenters found inventive ways to work around this obstacle by webcasting the plenary sessions, skyping on the Imperiled History Report, presenting speakers through youtube clips, and such low tech solutions as having a partner present your remarks.  Those in attendance at the conference were the young (many on GW Student Travel Scholarships), the old (mostly committed retirees), the academic (presenting their  research) and thanks again to GW Society attendees with Native Participant Travel Grants.  So mix in some international visitors including representatives of the UN, IUCN, and our neighbors to the north, and you had a conference with a very positive dynamic. But the hard part is that so many up and coming government professionals missed the chance to take away new ideas and this is a loss for the field of cultural landscapes and so much more.

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Predictions for the Coming Year

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2012

So what will 2013 bring for the field of living landscapes? The editors of the Living Landscape Observer have a few predictions. We will follow these issues in the coming year and check back in December 2013!

1.     The large landscape movement will continue to expand. With no big change in course at the national level the landscape scale programs at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management will continue to grow and prosper. The America Great Outdoors initiative will frame the work of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service will issue guidance on how to “Scale Up” efforts around National Park Units. On the private side, conservation organizations will come together around the new Large Landscape Practitioners Network.

2.     National Heritage Areas will be pulled back from the brink. One of the country’s premier large landscape programs, National Heritage Areas, are in a precarious position. The twelve original areas are facing a loss of funding and most of the newer areas are severely underfunded. We predict the program will be rescued, but remain unsure on whether much needed program legislation will be passed.

3.     The concept of cultural landscapes will be revitalized.  New ideas about cultural landscapes including Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and Historic Urban Landscapes are attracting new and diverse audiences, including the conservation community, regional planners and urban developers.  Look for these approaches to proliferate and shake up traditional concepts of cultural significance.  Just one example of new ways to think about landscape is what’s happening at the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge.

4.     The Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor will be in the spotlight.  This is a given – after all the Commission has been honored by an invitation to march in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 21, 2013. With a newly completed Management Action Plan, this should be an important year for the preservation of this national treasure. See our post on the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor.

Have a Happy New Year!

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National Trust for Historic Preservation: A Tale of Two Sessions

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Scene from Glacier National Park, part of the larger Crown of the Continent landscape.

Large landscapes. Living Landscapes. Cultural Landscapes – what a difference a few words can make! Earlier this month, a pair of well-received sessions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Meeting in Spokane, Washington highlighted the challenges associated with defining these terms. The two back-to-back panels, which both tackled landscape scale issues, drew very different responses from the audience – a testament to how exciting, yet also contested, these ideas remain.

The first session Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place presented work underway in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that has redefined landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-contact Native peoples. The goal of this expanded definition is to better interpret the place of American Indians on the land. It also draws on Indigenous knowledge systems to strengthen conservation practice by adding a cultural perspective to areas already significant for their ecological resources and water protecting capacity.

Deanna Beacham, an American Indian Program Manager with the National Park Service, started the panel’s conversation on how the concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape has been used to enrich the Chesapeake Bay region’s understanding of place. Lisa Hayes from Accokeek Foundation followed next, illustrating how the concept is being applied to better understand the homeland of the Piscataway in Maryland. Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director with the National Park Service, discussed the need to examine how the NPS uses the idea of cultural landscapes, especially in contexts where knowledge systems and values may or may not overlap.

For the next 45 minutes, attendees discussed and debated the meaning of this broader approach to cultural landscapes. The dialogue was quite rich and an overwhelming majority of attendees reported back on evaluations that this helped make the session one of their favorites at the conference. At the time and in the post session write-ups, a number of folks asked for more specifics on how this idea would impact the resources they care about and the work they do on the ground. Yet, others pushed back against this idea, noting that law and/or regulation is often used as a way to limit or contain the possibilities of new approaches. Hands flew in the air. What would mean it for the National Register criteria, as we know it today? How could it possibly work with the section 106 process? Who speaks for Indigenous peoples? Does it have any applicability in the western United States? Many were inspired as one person said, it presented “ the idea of a cultural landscape not as a static thing… it is a continuing discourse between the past, present
 and potential for the future.”

The afternoon session on Conservation on a Grand Scale: The Large Landscape Approach had a very different dynamic – maybe it was the after lunch time slot or the room which was a bit cavernous. The second panel featured Mark Preiss, the manager of Eby’s Landing National Preserve, and Shawn Johnson, who coordinates the work of the Crown of the Continent Roundtable. They presented complex work that crosses jurisdictional boundaries and integrates private and public lands to achieve a partnerships approach to land and water conservation and natural resource management. Both panelists talked from a large landscape perspective and emphasized the importance of integrating culture and nature values.

However, despite the scale of these large landscape efforts and the inclusion of cultural resources as key components, no challenging questions were raised about how these resources were identified or defined. The largely positive post session reviews expressed no uncertainty about how it would impact the field of historic preservation. What if the session was titled Cultural Landscape Conservation on a Grand Scale? Would the conversation have taken a different turn? Perhaps the emphasis on an ecosystem approach, stretching across multiple states, proved a bit unfamiliar to National Trust conference attendees, whose work tends to focus on smaller areas or sites. Perhaps not, but whatever the reason, the two sessions produced markedly different responses among participants.

For a fuller description of the session and speakers see link to the National Trust Conference Program in Spokane WA for Friday Nov 1, 2012

 

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New Featured Landscape

By Eleanor Mahoney October 31, 2012

Be sure to check out the newest featured landscape – Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Located on Whidbey Island, Washington State, Ebey’s Landing is a landscape that illustrates a continuous record of Pacific Northwest history. The land appears much as it did a century ago. Patterns of settlement, historic homes, pastoral farmsteads and commercial buildings are still within their original farm, forest, and marine settings. A visitor can experience a variety of diverse physical and visual landscapes within a small geographic area. The community of Ebey’s Reserve is a healthy, vital one that allows for growth and change while respecting and preserving its heritage.

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Signs of the Landscape Times

By Eleanor Mahoney August 27, 2012

Hudson River view from Poughkeepsie

A few weeks ago, I drove from New York City to Montreal, Canada. Over the course of four days, I explored the Hudson River Valley, eastern Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region, all among the Northeast’s most iconic large landscapes. During the trip, I encountered a fair amount of signage, identifying or marking the landscape in different ways. What follows are some general thoughts on what I found – I am also interested in learning what others think, have done or have learned about using signage to create awareness of place.

Highway signs:What does it mean to pass a sign, while going 70 miles per hour that reads, “Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc? For most visitors, I would hazard to say little to nothing if (important if) that is all there is! I only have anecdotal data to support this claim, but multiple friends and relatives have told me they passed heritage area road signs for years (in the case of my own father for over 10 years) and never knew what to make of them until I began working for the program and explained its significance. One recommendation I would offer is that these signs link-up to an actual place a visitor can exit and get information, even if it is an unmanned kiosk at a rest stop. So, instead of just “Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc,” the sign should read Entering [insert name here] landscape/heritage area/trail/ etc – Stop at Exit 1 for information.” Obviously, it is impossible to go back and change all the existing signs, but, in the future, it might be worthwhile to consider this approach.

Hyde Park, Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site

The Importance of Hubs:One of the stops on my drive was Hyde Park, the Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site. This is one of the most highly touristed sites in the Hudson River Valley and draws regional, national and international visitors. As such, it can (and hopefully does) serve as a springboard for visitation to other interesting, but lesser known, locations. A great use of a sign I saw at Hyde Park was a map that showed the boundaries of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and identified multiple points of interest. Many visitors stopped and looked at the map (always draw people in) and discussed possible visits. In considering how best to create informational signage like this for large landscapes, prioritizing quality signage at a highly visited hub like Hyde Park seems important because many of those stopping may only be familiar with 1 or 2 such sites. Another idea might be to identify sites by driving distance. While it seems less interesting than thematic grouping, it might make more sense for trip planning purposes.

Tourist vs. Resident – One of my favorite stops was a state park near the highway in New York where we stopped to stretch our legs. The park had free parking nearby and most of the visitors appeared to be local residents out for an evening stroll. There was a large amount of conspicuous signage, but no one seemed to be reading it. The signage discussed both natural and cultural history. I wondered, when a park serves residents of a large landscape, rather than tourists – what kind of information is best? Do residents read signs? Are they (it seems obvious) in a different mindset than a tourist who has set out to visit a specific place to learn its story. What are the best ways to generate a dialogue/ interpret a landscape for those who live there, such that they can offer their expertise on the place and possibly learn something new as well in a setting as informal as a riverside walking trail?

Do organizations keep track of their signs effective or conduct cost/benefit analysis?

Have you seen great landscape-scale signage?

Please, share your ideas/thoughts!

 

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Let’s Give a Shout Out to World Heritage

By Brenda Barrett June 27, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio TexasIn most countries inscription on the World Heritage list is highly prized. Designation is seen as bringing honor, recognition, and tourists to a nation’s most outstanding historic and scenic sites.  For this reason, many countries vie to increase the numbers of properties that are imprinted with the World Heritage brand.   This has not been the case in the United States – quick – name three US properties on the world heritage list: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Monticello, yes, Mount Vernon actually no. To see a list of the 21 World Heritage sites in the US go here.

But perhaps the American perception of the value of World Heritage designation is changing.  Let me tell you what happened earlier in June at the usually staid US/ICOMOS annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  US/ICOMOS is one of over 100 National Committees with a formal role in the nomination and protection of World Heritage Sites and as a national committee provides technical advice to UNESCO’s on World Heritage issues.  The purpose of this year’s US/ICOMOS conference was to consider the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention featuring multiple scholarly presentations and behind the scene tours with the curators of the region’s heritage sites.

However, the US/ICOMOS conference dinner in celebration the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention had a different vibe. Keynote speaker, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, brought a Texas crowd to it feet hooting and hollering when he announced his support for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage sites.  While this might have been a little disconcerting to conference attendees and to the other candidates for World Heritage status also attending the meeting, this extra enthusiastic response might be a sign of the rising cachet of World Heritage designation in this country. Read the press release here.

According to a recent article  in the George Wright Forum, from 1960 through its ratification in 1972, the United States played a leadership role in developing the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the “World Heritage Convention”). Today this document has become one of the most widely recognized international environmental agreements in history and has been ratified by almost every nation on the globe. In the United States, however, the World Heritage Convention has come under increasing attack. During the Reagan Administration, the U.S. withdrew its support from UNESCO, the larger entity that oversees World Heritage designations. Congress also passed legislation requiring 100% owner consent to any world heritage listing, which rules out the designation of large cultural landscapes. And right now, the U.S. has again withdrawn financial support to UNESCO because of the organization’s vote to grant membership to Palestine.

Given this history, it is very heartening to see such a ground swell of interest in the idea of World Heritage and in Texas to boot! Supporters of the designation for the San Antonio Missions report that 80% of the local community is in favor of the nomination. The elected officials, the San Antonio River Authority, and most importantly the venerable San Antonio Conservation Society are all on board with idea. The Spanish ICOMOS National Committee also has offered to help with documentation requirements. Okay, so the number of fans for designating the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site wouldn’t fill Long Horn Stadium, but it is a start.

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Charting a Future: National Heritage Corridor to become our next National Park?

By Brenda Barrett May 24, 2012

Interested in the future of National Heritage Areas or in the bigger issue of partnership management in the National Park Service (NPS)?  If so, the proposed legislation to rethink the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor may be of interest.

In the past, one of the selling points for designating National Heritage Areas was offering a model that was   an alternative to a NPS park unit. Within the boundary of a heritage area, the NPS would not own any land, would avoid costly maintenance of historic buildings, and would be able to count on partners and volunteers to make a major contribution to the work.  In return, the NPS would be able to tell nationally important stories of industry, agriculture and cultural heritage on a large landscape scale that would otherwise be impossible to imagine. This was certainly the idea in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the first national heritage corridor along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This model was also fresh in Congress’s mind when they created the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor two years later.

For a quarter of a century the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Commission, in partnership with the NPS, has managed a 550 square miles corridor that spans two state and 24 communities. The landscape of the Blackstone Valley illustrates an arc of the nation’s industrial history stretching from sites of early industrial innovation to environmental exploitation, then abandonment, and finally regeneration. The mission of the Blackstone Valley Commission included both natural and cultural resource conservation. It boldly tackled issues like water quality, local land use and even leadership training for residents and government officials. The commission was recognized as a model for partnership management of a living landscape.

Despite these successes, the community, political leaders and the NPS seem to have taken a new path and are proposing to create a new National Park unit. A recent NPS Special Resource Study (2011)  recommended a more traditional approach – the creation of the Blackstone River Valley Industrial Heritage National Park. The sweeping ideas of the original heritage corridor – partnership management of the valley – have been reduced to NPS staff preserving a collection of industrial heritage sites. And this is not just a study; Congress has introduced legislation to make it a reality. (See SB 1708 and HR 3191).

So why is this happening? One reason is clear just look at the NPS budget for National Heritage Areas. Unlike national park units who have predictable annual funding, the heritage areas funding has been shrinking just as the program has expanded. For the last decade the Blackstone Commission has had to lobby for adequate funding every year, making long-range planning, implementation of multi-year projects, and staff retention very challenging. However, the proposed solution is not necessarily more cost effective.  A comparison between the current Blackstone Heritage Corridor and the proposed new Blackstone park unit make a compelling case for the benefits of collaborative management:

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor encompasses an entire watershed with a broad mandate for the preservation, redevelopment, and interpretation of the regional landscape. The Blackstone Commission has a current annual operating budget of approximately $1 million and 14 full-time employees.

Proposed Blackstone River Valley Industrial Heritage National Park would encompass four historic districts, the Blackstone River and Blackstone Canal with an annual operating cost of $3.5 million not including proposed planning costs, construction, rehabilitation and exhibits at four sites.

With 49 National Heritage Areas from Alaska to Alabama, these numbers are thought provoking. More problematic for the NPS are the implications for management based on partnership, community engagement and working at a landscape scale, rather than the traditional, ownership model.

A 2005 NPS study identified the critical ingredients for the Blackstone River Valley’s’ future success as: (1) strong collaborative leadership to carry forward the vision; (2) an ongoing relationship with the NPS; and (3) secure, sustainable funding. In 2012 two of those critical ingredients may be on the way, but the first and most important one remains uncertain.  Just as the NPS’s most recent strategic plan, calls for scaling up its work and promoting large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources, one of the best examples of collaborative lived-in landscape management may be headed for a down sizing.

Is this an overreaction?  Some of the longtime leaders of the Blackstone Corridor see the new legislation as a positive approach. They point out that the new park unit will have grant funding for continued partnership work in the region and they remain hopeful for the future. Let us know what you think.

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A Summit on National Parks: A New Landscape for the Next Hundred Years

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2012

The America’s Summit on National Parks in Washington DC (January 24-26, 2012) was in the tradition of past large convocations to set the future direction for the National Park Service such as The Vail Agenda (1991), Discovery 2000 (St. Louis) and Joint Ventures (Los Angeles 2003), but with a key difference. The event was convened by the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Foundation and the National Park Hospitality Association and, of the 300 invitees to the summit, only 44 were employees of the National Park Service. The summit’s big idea was to use the agency’s centennial in 2016 to power the national parks’ second century. The National Park Service’s Call to Action (released August 25, 2011) framed most of the sessions of the two-day event.

Working on a landscape scale was very much in the foreground. Although the two sessions on Connecting and Conserving Landscapes were billed as cultural and as natural, the speakers blended both ideas and focused on the need to collaborate to conserve resources. The session, The Next Generation of America’s Parks: New Models and Opportunities, tackled another theme of the summit: How to expand the national park system to reflect the diversity of our cultural and natural heritage? While these sessions were based on two of the actions steps identified in the Call to Action report (See Action #1 Fill in the Blanks and Action #22 Scaling Up), the panelists took the ideas one step further. They spoke with an authentic partnership voice on the opportunities and frankly the difficulties of working with the National Park Service. They made real world recommendations that the agency must make if it wants to work on a larger scale and be ready for the next 100 years.

In his opening remarks, Secretary Salazar noted that only 3% of park units represent diverse communities and called for new thinking to broaden the agency’s base of support. Panelists at the break out sessions wondered why – if landscape scale projects and diverse perspectives are so important to the National Park Service – do national heritage areas, trails, and wild and scenic rivers receive so little funding. Tribal and other community partners also said they wanted to work with the parks, but were frustrated by the process. The Call to Action has its work cut out to address many of these issues.

In other observations, the summit’s many plenary sessions were packed, generating a stream of ideas from political, corporate, nonprofit leaders that this observer would analogize to “drinking from a fire hose.” It was clear that the summit planners subscribed to the maxim that if you want people to remember you then invite them to your party. Re-occurring themes were the importance of paying attention to youth and new audiences, but also the enduring value of the National Park Service as a brand.

 So what are the next steps?

All summit attendees were provided with a draft document “National Parks for a New Century: Statement of Joint Principles,” which as critiqued at the closing session for being too focused on park units and not representative of the many partnerships represented at the event. As a good first step, the summit planners have now revised the Statement of Joint Principles to be more inclusive and are actively seeking organizations to sign on as supporter. For more information on the summit speakers, sessions and notes on the highlights, visit the summit’s web site Taking Action.

 

 

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