This presentation is part of the Texas Cultural Landscape Symposium, February 23-26, Waco, TX.

Head shot of Robert Melnick

Robert Melnick

Robert Melnick: I want to start by thanking Preservation Texas and National Park Service, especially Guadalupe Mountains, National Parks Conservation Association, and of course, NCPTT for organizing this and for all the other sponsors. I hope you don’t think of this as the Texas Cultural Landscape Symposium, but that you think of it as the first Texas Cultural Landscape Symposium with others to follow two years, three years, next year, or whatever. I was incredibly impressed by the depth of what everyone’s spoke about the last couple of days, the awareness of what’s going on here in Texas. As I said in my opening remarks, which seems like about a week ago, it was just yesterday morning, that I hope to learn a lot and boy did I learn a lot. I hope everyone else did as well. It was just fascinating to me to hear what everyone spoke about and to the great varieties of groups and of resources here in Texas.

I was especially excited to see, or to hear about, see, hear about, the diverse places, diverse resources and diverse people that are evident in the overall kind of mega cultural landscapes here in Texas. That was incredibly impressive and to understand, not only what’s here, but also that you understand and you see the challenges that are being faced. And I’ll talk about that in a second. I think that we spoke about the history, you spoke about history, opportunities and challenges of doing that. I really enjoyed understanding some of the practicalities and learning about the tools and the technologies, learning about the philosophy of cultural landscapes and cultural landscape preservation and dealing with that. I’m just trying to maybe play back for you some of the things that we did.

It was important I think also, from my colleagues in the National Park Service and others, to really learn about rules and legislation because in many ways you need to know that in order to get things done. And I think that’s very, very important. I first got involved in this, I don’t know, what was it, Julie, a week ago, maybe? No, it was longer ago than that, when Julie and Evan approached me to see if I would be involved. As you’ve heard, we’re about to start a cultural landscape report for Bassett Farms that you’re all going to see tomorrow. And I think associated with that, Evan and Julie and others asked if I would be involved in this. And I don’t even think Julie got to finish or Evan got to finish this sentence before I said yes. I think that’s probably true. So it’s really been a delight for me.

Texas is remarkably rich in cultural landscapes. I think that Greg’s discussion about the register and the variety of cultural landscapes among what everybody else showed, was very, very important and really, really interesting. The question that it leaves with, I think there’s always a wonderful enthusiasm that comes out of meetings like this for you and for me, as we go back to our local communities and think about what to do. But then there’s always the question of what to do. Okay? So I think if I could just summarize that briefly, I don’t want to keep you too long. I think one of the things that we heard a lot today was about education, yesterday and today, about educating other people about the places that they see every day that they live in and that they pass through.

And I would hope that you would each take it upon it as your responsibility to do that, whether it’s over dinner, over a beer, over somehow, it’s food all the time, over a beer, food, coffee, whatever. Or just meeting people and say, Have you been to this place? Do you know that that’s when those trees are planted, that this road that looks like it’s just kind of a 16-foot wide road, was once the road from Florida to California. You know, just getting people to understand that. As I said earlier yesterday, my view about cultural landscapes, if they help us understand where we are in time and space, what came before us, where we are now and where we’re going. And then also, just about geographically, ecologically where we are. Obviously, cultural landscapes, as you know, as you’ve heard again and again and again, are not just about culture, they’re also about nature and understanding those.

In design studies and an ecological studies, this is a simplistic view of it. There is a concept known as the ecotone and the ecotone is where you take two environments, and the organisms that live in one and live in the other, can both live where those environments overlap. To me, where I live on the Pacific Coast in Oregon, that’s really where you get crabs and you get all kinds of vegetation that needs to have the water but also needs to have the sunlight. Okay? So it’s not just a wetland environment or a dry land environment. They thrive in both of those because of the wave action and the kind of tidal systems that there are. So that, I think, is important.

As you deal with education, it’s important to have people recognize what’s important. Go to your city councils, go to your local county groups and talk about how can we recognize this because this is where the history of our place happened. Owning that cultural landscape for each of us, owning that cultural landscape where we live, becomes a way to recognize it and to educate other people about it. It’s one of the ways that it happens. And if you look at how historic buildings, historic structures, courthouses, homesteads first got recognized, that’s what happened. People said, Wait a minute, that was important. My great, great, great grandparents lived there. That’s an important place. Or I know the people whose great-great-grandparents lived there. It’s an important place.

The other piece I think that’s important or two other pieces really in what I said, is to get ordinances, get laws, get recognition in whatever way is appropriate for your community. I tend to shy away from always saying laws or ordinances because sometimes that’s not appropriate for every community. Frankly, politically or socially in your community, that may not work, but there are ways to do that to get a local planning agency to recognize that this, too, is also important. But also then, to manage change, to recognize that when a cultural landscape changes, you don’t necessarily lose everything about it. And therefore, having that record, that documentation of what’s there is very, very important.

I think by now you all get that doing cultural landscape work is not easy. It’s very hard. It’s hard work because often you look at it and you don’t understand it. Let me give you my email address. There’s a great article from the 1970s that I have a PDF of that I will send anybody who asks me. I have, seven email addresses like most people. The easiest one are, my initials R, Z like in zebra,

I will send you, if you just send me a note saying we met here and please send it. There’s a great article written in the late 1970s by a British author named Marion Shoard. And I know that some of you know this. Susan, you know this article, a chapter in a book, and it was basically why landscapes are harder to protect than buildings. And although it’s filled with British examples, which are okay, British examples, we go back many years, as you know. What’s most important about is Marion’s view that people don’t always see and understand what they’re looking at. And it’s a very, very good article. I will send you a PDF of that if you just write to me. I’m going to be away for about 10 days now on vacation, but after I get back, I will gladly send that to you.

So, I want to close with, first of all, you’re going to hear about tomorrow’s field trip, and I would encourage you tomorrow to come and look and take pictures. And yes, listen to what some of us may say to you, but more importantly, look at what you see. I recently hired a new assistant in our cultural landscape research group and we were doing some work at Pearl Harbor with a senior person in the Park Service out of San Francisco and I was there with many years’ experience, and this much younger, much less experienced person, was seeing things in that landscape that neither of the rest of us saw. And it really, not only impressed me about her, but impressed me about always having new eyes, new ways of looking at things, that’s really important.

So, my final comment before I turn it over to Evan, is that you’ll often hear people say to you, I don’t do preservation. I don’t believe in preservation. Sorry, that’s just not what I’m about. My answer to that, I bet if I did it here, is for you to think how many of you have photographs of great-great-grandparents you’ve never met and were never alive when you were? How many of you have records of deeds from your house or your parent’s house? How many of you have ticket stubs from concerts you went to when you were 16 years old? I’m thinking about the things that I have here, okay? How many of you have phone numbers before there were area codes if you’re old enough, right? Okay. And my point there is that all of those people, in fact, practice preservation. They practice it for themselves. And our goal is to practice it as a community and as a society. But it’s, in fact, the same thing.

I actually did that once at a meeting Astoria, Oregon and I got up and I was talking about this and someone started literally screaming at me, “Why are you wasting our time with preservation?” Dah, dah, dah. And I went, “Wait, wait a minute.” You know, and I said that to this person. And he said, “Oh, okay. I get it.” You know? And I think that’s my point, that in fact we all have a great need to understand. I’m going to come back to this is again, where we are in time and space. And preservation of cultural landscapes helps us do that, when in fact, we do it at a more local level, at a very personal level, anyway.

So, thank you very much. I had a number of great conversations today, this week. I’m looking forward to more of them tomorrow with any of you and all of you, and I really do appreciate the opportunity to be here and to listen and to learn from you. And I will be back because we’re working at Bassett Farms probably a lot. I’ll be back a lot. Thank you all very, very much.


Speaker Bio:

Professor Emeritus Robert Z. Melnick is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in cultural landscape evaluation and historic landscape preservation planning. A Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Robert has published widely on theoretical and practical issues relating to cultural and historic landscapes. He has served as lead and consultant for projects in states across the country, including Hawaii, California, Oregon, Iowa, Texas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. His written works and professional projects have received numerous national awards. Robert regularly lectures at universities and professional meetings. He is Director of the UO Cultural Landscape Research Group (CLRG).

Robert’s most recent work on the impact of climate change on cultural landscapes in US national parks received a 2017 ASLA Honor Award in Research.

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