The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is creating a new, interactive way of preserving historic landscapes. Slated for launch in October, the PTTGrant-funded “What’s Out There” project will raise awareness about the wide range and diversity of historic landscape design through a collaborative Wikipedia-style website. The site will enable users to directly contribute information, resulting in a comprehensive catalog of significant landscape designs.

“The What’s Out There project grew out of a desire to raise the awareness of our designed landscape heritage and make that information available to a wide public audience,” Nancy Slade, project manager, said. “This project endeavors to catalog, over a period of years, the most significant extant historic designed landscapes in America spanning over 250 years of landscape architecture.”

The free, online database was conceptualized in response to the lack of historic landscape sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which evaluates and nominates landscapes to be marked as historic. Out of 83,000 listings on the National Register and little more than 2,600 National Historic Landscapes (NHLs), only 1,900 of these NR properties and 50 or so NHLs have significance in landscape architecture — equating to a mere 2.3 percent of the NR listings and 1.9 percent of NHLs. These figures seem small given that the specialized NR Bulletin has been in circulation for nearly two decades. TCLF believes this is because historians and others involved in preservation have had limited access to the critical contextual knowledge needed to nominate landscape sites.

What’s Out There will contain individual entries for each historic landscape and includes designer names, geographic location, type and style, as well as brief background information. TCLF has currently collected 1,400 historic designed landscapes and organized them into 35 landscape categories, such as rural cemeteries, urban plazas and parkways, as well as a dozen architectural styles, such as Colonial Revival, Prairie Style and Modern.

The overall database will be easily searched by using the property name, designer, landscape type and location. The database will also be illustrated with free, downloadable PDF images, making it useful for designers, educators, historians and preservationists. Slade NCPTT’s funding was critical to the success of this project.

“NCPTT’s funding is supporting the further development and expansion of the What’s Out There database,” she said. “It will also make possible the further development of the project’s outreach, among others we will aim to expand the audience reaching out to such NPS publications as Common Ground, CRM Journal, and the Heritage Matters e-letter.”

What's Out There grant screenshot

Ultimately, the What’s Out There project seeks not only to make design landscapes more visible on a national scale, but also wants to encourage original scholarship aid in future NR and NHL nominations, encourage state and local landscape inventories, generate cultural landscape reports and inspire design professionals. The Foundation also wants to involve colleges as well.

“TCLF will also expand the reach of this project by engaging university and educational partners to identify additional sites. It is worth noting that both American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and Landscape Journal are already cooperating organizations with TCLF. As a result, we can expect our outreach efforts to reach landscape architecture faculty and students through targeted e-blasts, e-letters and advertisements in Landscape Architecture magazine and Landscape Journal,” Slade said.

TCLF also hopes the information learned from the database will lead to wise design and management decisions and increase the potential for websites, biographical narratives, books and brochures to help to protect these resources against threats.