Landscapes Under Threat

December in Central Park image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr
December in Central Park
image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

In 2013, we asked Professional Practice Network (PPN) members which projects they felt were most at risk. Threats to landscapes—even to the most beloved places that attract thousands of visitors each year—are manifold and complex, ranging from encroaching development, poor maintenance, climate change and rising sea levels, and more. A quick look at The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s At-Risk Landscapes illustrates just how tenuous the survival of some landscapes, from urban parks to intimate gardens designed by the biggest names in landscape architecture, can be.

Here are a few places—some of which may be surprising; even the most iconic and historically significant landscapes can be at risk—that were mentioned more than once:

  • Central Park, New York City
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • The Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • The National Mall, Washington, DC

The National Mall, Washington, DC image: Alexandra Hay
The National Mall, Washington, DC
image: Alexandra Hay

In addition to this handful of specific locations mentioned, a key theme that arose was the fear of losing certain types of spaces, rather than particular places. Below are a few of the suggestions and comments.

Seven Sisters Country Park in southern England image: Alexandra Hay
Seven Sisters Country Park in southern England
image: Alexandra Hay

Agricultural Lands

“Once it is covered over with suburbia it can never be replaced.”

“Encourages sprawl versus compact development.”

Natural and Open Spaces

“This is the seed bank, the reproductive grounds of countless species, our lungs of the world.”

“Environmental loss, loss of visual quality, and impacts of sprawl development.”

“We need open space to recreate, unwind, and relax. We are too urbanized and are losing touch with our natural environment.”

“Climate change and animal habitat.”

“They take too long to regenerate and have the ecological cycle restored.”

“Functional ecosystems provide so many services for us all and the greater environment. When we lose these, we are diminishing the quality of our lives on a day to day basis whether we realize it or not.”

Fire Island, New York's dunes image: Alexandra Hay
Fire Island, New York’s dunes
image: Alexandra Hay

Coastlines and Beaches

“With global warming and rising sea levels, I’m worried that the great beaches aren’t going to be around for much longer.”

“This fragile point where land meets water is dynamic and limited.”

“We are losing it to development, rising sea level, and extreme storms. The views from the New England coastline are varied and beautiful…the variety of ecosystems that they provide is immeasurable.”

Forests and Woodlands

“In my opinion, today’s children have no idea what it’s like to be in the wilderness and be able to physically feel the true effects of Mother Nature and our world. It’s disappearing at an alarming rate.”

“Forests are where anyone can interact with the landscape in their own way without the intrusion of ‘programmed’ or overly designed spaces.”

“This is a space that belongs to everyone, but it is vulnerable to political lobbying. The organizations that try to protect the space are no match for paid lawyers and influential politicians. The loss would surrender the buffer to ugliness of sign clutter, box store exteriors, billboards, and limited access fencing.”


“They are national treasures; they show the wonderful diversity of landscapes we have in this nation. National parks hold rare species and precious ecosystems.”

“We can still learn a great deal about composition from the old masters. Often the connection to the original designer is lost to the current generation, and their ignorance can lead to losing these parks.”

“Because 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas, many of those areas are experiencing serious budget shortfalls in ways that mean poor maintenance, park closures, or reduced programs. These enrich a lot of lives, when they are open and available to the public.”

Urban Green Space

“The human species needs green and respite. Urban areas need to protect those spaces for the ol’ psyche.”

“These were part of a move to ‘green up’ cities and reconnect city dwellers with nature’s systems and are being removed and radically redesigned throughout the United States. Preservation of some of these or part of these should occur so we do not completely lose these iconic spaces.”

“People need to experience nature [instead of] losing it to development. Nature is not just the National Park Service in the most remote areas left in the country; it used to be backyards and spaces between neighborhoods. I am only 29 but have experienced development’s destruction on connected open space too many times.”

At the start of 2013, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: favorite spaces. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2013, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

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