Managing the Environmental Change and Cultural Landscapes

Posted by: danaapti on Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 6:00:00 am

During Session CS 18 on Managing the Environmental Change and Cultural Landscapes, Robert Melnick, spoke on climate change and rethinking our strategies for dealing with cultural landscapes.  For starters, he suggested that we need to consider the following:

  • Cultural landscapes are outside the preservation orthodoxy.
  • Landscapes are 50 years behind the preservation movement.
  • Can’t think about cultural landscapes without thinking of natural systems.
  • Climate and weather are not the same, as the weather = short term needs and the climate = long term needs.
  • We need to think about climate more than we think about weather.
  • Climate change is very global and yet is very local.
  • Landscapes are exceptionally dynamic historic resources, very sensitive and susceptible to climate change.

From this point of view, we need to rethink and re-envision our strategies for protecting and perhaps for understanding cultural landscapes.  In doing so, we need to:

  • Rethink the established protocols.  How do they need to be modified or shifted to meet the need?
  • Consider the changing climate context; Most of our understanding of cultural landscapes is from the context, but what happens when the context is not there?
  • Realize that landscapes are both verbs and nouns; they are a system.  If you change one piece you change everything.
  • We need to rethink and envision the established priorities.  Perhaps focus on those landscapes that will be more threatened with rising sea levels before it is too late.
  • Regarding the Secretary’s Standards, how and do they still apply to landscapes?  They are grounded in architecture, but need to be rethought.  Do the guidelines for the treatment of cultural landscapes don’t go far enough in light of climate change?

What to do?

  • Develop a deeper understanding of the behavior and response of immovable cultural landscapes to the impacts of climate change.
  • Recognize the historical ranges of variation in landscape activity and performance taking both the long and short views of this phenomenon.
  • Accept and act on the uncertainty of the change to come.
  • Adapt to change and ways to mitigate it.
  • Seek ways to promote resilience to change in these landscapes.
  • Make difficult decisions about which landscapes to try to save, which landscapes are salvageable, and which landscapes perhaps are not. (Landscape triage)

Among Robert’s remarks, he recommended two good books to read: “The weather of change” and “The Worst Hard Time.”  The second is about the dust bowl and environmental degradation of the 1930s, which aids a related understanding for today.

Robert wrapped up and asked, are we at a dead end?  He doesn’t’ think so, but believes that we are very near a tipping point between the climate and its impact upon cultural landscapes.  He encourages that we all need to pay better attention to this issue in the near future.


Lonnie J. Hovey, AIA, FAPT
Program Manager, Historic Preservation


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