What is Historic Landscape Preservation?
by David Driapsa, ASLA

The recent critique by Jackie Bowring in Landscape Architecture Magazine, “Lament for a Lost Landscape,” (October 2009, p. 128) is an interesting view of historic landscape preservation. Bowring alludes to the cultural meaning and values that exist in the most unlikely places.

The beauty of melancholy is an enduring theme and is embedded in many cultures, such as the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi and mono no aware, which embody the beauty of the weathered and the poignant aesthetic of impermanence. 

The concepts of “wabi-sabi” and “mono no aware” illuminate the historic preservation maxim that “it is better to preserve than to repair, better to repair than to restore, better to restore than to reconstruct,” and attest to the vulnerability of historic landscapes to forces of redevelopment and even restoration.

Many historic landscapes that were or continue to be significant in the cultural development of our local communities, states, and the nation will be altered and even lost in the near future—but hopefully not before they are identified and documented to record them for future generations. Identification and documentation is the goal of the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). 
Historic landscape preservation is no longer exclusively the work of a few elite practitioners or a select group of academics. The field has expanded broadly within the past last half century from those few multidisciplinary advocates to experts, specialists, as well as a wide range of generalists with a common nomenclature and a written body of knowledge. There are also federally-recognized historic preservation professional qualification standards for historic landscape architects.

The American Society of Landscape Architects public policy statement, Preservation of Historic Sites, Districts and Cultural Landscapes, calls for ASLA members to take action on behalf of historic landscape resources:

Without a comprehensive understanding of the site history and a plan to manage the site in place, well meaning but unstudied modifications may compromise the integrity of a significant historic property or cultural landscape. The identification, documentation, analysis, evaluation, treatment and maintenance of historic sites… help ensure that the resource is available for the education and enjoyment of future generations.

The importance of the public policy statement is most evident in ASLA’s commitment to HALS, the federal heritage documentation program adopted by the U.S. Congress in the year 2000. The following year, ASLA signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Park Service and Library of Congress to support this historic landscape documentation program.

In the MOU, ASLA included historic landscape preservation in its mission to advance knowledge, education, and skill in the art and science of landscape architecture as an instrument of service in public welfare. It then agreed to compile and maintain a list of significant historic American landscapes, together with the necessary information to indicate significance.

ASLA has pledged to:

  • lobby federal legislators for initial and ongoing Congressional funding of HALS;
  • compile, prioritize, and update a list of local examples of historic landscapes that are threatened, highly significant, and/or highly valued;
  • assist the Chief of HALS, Paul Dolinsky, in compiling a comprehensive national inventory of possible HALS study sites;
  • identify one or more historic landscapes that merit complete documentation pursuant to the guidelines, and coordinate such documentation as resources allow; -- coordinate HALS activities with the State Historic Preservation Office;
  • advise on the review and revision of state and local historic preservation laws and standards to include documentation of historic landscapes;
  • educate government agencies and consultants about the use of HALS for compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 4(f) of the Transportation Department Act of 1966, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
  • promote public awareness of the importance of historic landscapes and the use of HALS; and
  • encourage donations from local philanthropists to the HABS/HAER/HALS Foundation for supplemental private funding of HALS.

ASLA consults with the Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (HP-PPN—formerly, the Historic Preservation Interest Group) on the implementation of HALS. In addition, a HALS Liaisons Network (Liaisons) was established to provide local knowledge and conduct local activities within the state chapters necessary to carry out ASLA’s pledge to provide advice on identification, selection, and process related to the documentation of historic landscapes. The Liaisons are the corps of ASLA members from all the chapters and states. The ASLA Leadership & Governance Policy on HALS creates in each ASLA chapter the position of HALS Liaison. In chapters serving multiple states, a HALS Liaison is appointed from each state. HALS Liaisons are appointed by the chapter president, with the advice of the HALS Liaisons Coordinator. Appointees should be full members, associate members, and affiliate members in good standing. Chapter trustees, with one foot in Washington and the other in their state chapter, are valuable cohorts of the HALS program. Trustees assist in identifying and recommending HALS appointees and mentor the HALS Liaisons in chapter governance.

Currently, HALS Liaisons are appointed in forty-two ASLA chapters and states, leaving only fourteen appointments remaining vacant. The HALS Strategic Plan for 2009 proposes to appoint a HALS Liaison in all chapters and states by the end of this year, with a HALS State Fact Sheet for each. Currently, twenty-nine states have written a HALS State Fact Sheet. It would be a significant tribute to the HALS program to appoint a Liaison in every chapter and receive a written State Fact Sheet for each state before the 2010 ASLA Annual Meeting in Washington.
HALS is built upon the strong federal foundation that was laid in Washington during the past decade. Enthusiasm for the program is growing and now ASLA, in an effort to meet its pledge, is working to invigorate HALS within the chapters and states. This issue of the HP-PPN Newsletter includes reports from the HALS Liaisons Network that shares the challenges and successes encountered in establishing HALS programs across the nation.

HALS enters its second decade coinciding with the 2010 ASLA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. A task force led by Professor Paul Kelsch, ASLA, is working closely with ASLA National and HALS Chief Paul Dolinsky, ASLA, in planning HALS education sessions, field trips, and visits to the offices of the members of the HALS MOU:  the ASLA, National Park Service, and Library of Congress. Please mark your calendar and plan to attend the commemorative event in our nation’s capital.

David Driapsa, ASLA, serves as the HALS Liaisons Coordinator for ASLA. He is also President of David J Driapsa Landscape Architect Chartered in Naples, Florida. He can be reached at agarden@naples.net. 

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Andrew Kohr, ASLA, Chair
(678) 689-2377

Earen Hummel, ASLA, Vice Chair
(970) 484-6073

Tina Bishop, ASLA, Chair-Elect
(303) 477-5244

David Driapsa, ASLA, HALS Coordinator
(239) 591-2321