Where Are the World Heritage Landscapes in the U.S.?

The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking nominations for the U.S. World Heritage “tentative list,” which is then sent on to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the international organization that determines which sites go into the global list of culturally significant sites. The NPS may need help from landscape architects though, because there are so few designed landscapes and certainly none from the past hundred years in the current list of U.S. World Heritage sites or the tentative list now being considered.

Out of 936 sites worldwide, the U.S. has just 21 sites deemed crucial to global cultural heritage. Some argue this is because the U.S. has been in a fight with UNESCO since President Reagan pulled U.S. funding of the organization back in the 80s. A few years ago, funding was restored by President Bush but now it’s been pulled again given UNESCO recently gave membership to the Palestinian Authority. This means UNESCO has lost 22 percent of its annual funding and may not be up for considering U.S. sites.

Many of the 21 U.S. sites are national parks like Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite National Park. Native American sites like the Taos Pueblo and Mesa Verde are included. There are also a few historic sites like Independence Hall and Monticello and the University of Virginia campus. While UNESCO does actually include man-made landscapes of global significance, including early mining sites, none of the major designed landscapes from the past hundred years, like Central Park or Prospect Park, have even made it into the tentative list. In fact, the U.S. tenative list of 15 is loaded with eight different sites by Frank Lloyd Wright. While we’d love to see Falling Water on the list, along with the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, one of the earliest man-made landscapes (see image above), why no designed landscapes from the past hundred years? Perhaps because there hasn’t been a concerted push for including some of the seminal park or public plaza models.

American landscape architects can create a public campaign to get a designed American landscape of global cultural significance into the list. To aid in this process, here are some steps below that can be taken before March 20:

To get onto the official UNESCO nominations list, which is voted on by a committee of countries, the site must be on the U.S.’s tentative list for at least a year so send in nominations now. Check out the National Park Service’s requirements for info on how to be added, along with UNESCO’s criteria for evaluating potential World Heritage sites.     

All comments the NPS receives will be summarized and provided to Interior department officials, who will also ask the advice of the Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage before making any nominations. “The selection may include the following considerations: (i) How well the particular type of property (i.e., theme or region) is represented on the World Heritage List in both the United States and other nations; (ii) The balance between cultural and natural properties already on the List and those under consideration; (iii) Opportunities that the property affords for public visitation, interpretation, and education; (iv) Potential threats to the property’s integrity or its current state of preservation; (v) Likelihood of being able to complete a satisfactory nomination according to the timeline described above; and (vi) Other relevant factors, including the possible implications of non-payment of U.S. dues to UNESCO or the World Heritage Fund.”

Suggest your favorite cultural landscape or simply offer comments by March 20 by writing to Jonathan Putnam, Office of International Affairs, National Park Service, 1201 Eye Street NW., (0050). Washington, DC 20005 or by Email: jonathan_putnam@nps.gov. Fax 202-371-1446.

Hopefully, U.S. funding to UNESCO will be worked out so U.S. sites actually have a chance of getting in.

Image credit: Great Serpent Mound, Ohio / Red and the Peanut Blog

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