Visual Resources in the Practice of Landscape Architecture

by Tim Tetherow, ASLA, and John McCarty, ASLA

US 550 at Red Mountain Pass near Ouray, CO, part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway / image: courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation

This article explores the roots and diverse approaches to visual resource management (VRM) and visual impact assessment (VIA). The role of VRM and VIA encompasses federal lands, seascapes, landscapes, park lands, scenic byways and highway corridors, urban environments, and other valued places. Landscape architects play a lead role in sustaining this field of practice.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) provides a comprehensive public policy on visual resources:

The American Society of Landscape Architects believes the quality of visual character and scenic resources is critical to our landscapes and communities at the local, regional, and national level…To protect and enhance these irreplaceable assets, ASLA supports consideration of visual character and scenic resources for all projects and all users.

Building a Foundation for Visual Resource Stewardship

The roots of this field of practice can be traced back to the response to the nation’s growth and scale of environmental change in the 1950s and 60s. President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a message to Congress on February 8, 1965, calling for a White House Conference on Natural Beauty. In his message, President Johnson declared that:

To deal with these new problems will require a new conservation. We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities.…Its concern is not with nature alone, but with the total relation between man and the world around him….The beauty of our land is a natural resource. Its preservation is linked to the inner prosperity of the human spirit.

Proceedings of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty – May 24 and 25, 1965, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-65700, U.S. Government Printing Office Washington, D.C.: 1965.

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