Managing Urban Development

Professional Associations


In 2012, Lisa Prosper – Director of Willowbank Centre for Cultural Landscape wrote in her submission to the ‘City of Toronto’s Official Plan Amendment to Adopt New Heritage and Public Realm Policies’ that values no longer reside exclusively in the tangible fabric of history but in intangible concepts which are in a state of constant flux. It stands to reason therefore that conserving and commemorating heritage by using concepts and tools developed to conserve historically distinct artefacts or events is unlikely to attend to the myriad ways in which people see the past and derive meaning and relevance from it in the present as part of their everyday lives. She suggests that heritage experts share the responsibility and rewards of heritage practice with local communities by allowing people to define their own heritage.

We are therefore required to find out what people themselves value rather than finding the most important buildings on a national or expert register and then looking around to see who might sense ownership of them. Heritage value is not something that can be ascribed to things or events based on enumerated criteria. Instead, value is derived and maintained through everyday practice and engagement in place and is relevant to contemporary social, cultural and economic life. This implies breaking away from the idea of heritage as protecting a selection of discrete historical artefacts to one that sees heritage conservation as supporting the ongoing valorisation of the past in relation to the contexts and objectives of the present. 


Prosper explains that the concept of cultural landscape provides a strong framework for contemporary heritage policy and practice. In the broadest sense of the term, a cultural landscape describes the fusion of culture and place derived from sustained interaction between the two. That is to say, cultural landscape implies the co-creation of a new form, at once cultural and physical, real and imagined, that is greater than the sum of its parts. How the field of heritage conservation conceptualises and mobilises the idea of a cultural landscape has considerable implications to the promotion of community-based heritage, social inclusion and cultural vitality. Prosper advocates adopting a cultural landscape framework that incorporates the following elements as the conceptual basis for heritage policy and practice:

    1.  A sustained relationship between culture and place – a cultural landscape, in the broadest sense of the term is an inextricable relationship or fusion between culture and    place that grounds cultural identity and continuity. This relationship is expressed in a wide range of often intersecting tangible and intangible elements. A cultural landscape implies the co-creation of a new form; at once cultural and physical, real and imagined. It is greater than the sum of its parts.
    2. Cultural meaning produced through practice – the relationship between culture and place that defines a cultural landscape is produced and reproduced through embodied practices that result in lived experiences, material forms, imagined attachments, daily activities, cultural expressions and all manner of other tangible and intangible heritage. Cultural landscapes are sustained and remain relevant by everyday inhabitations, rituals and interventions that renew and reinvest meaning and value in place.
    3. A dynamic heritage – as the product of embodied practice, cultural landscapes are dynamic and constantly adapting relationships with place. They evolve over time, remaining vital as long as the cultural connection to place has relevance to contemporary life. Thus, change is an integral and inevitable part of cultural landscapes, which are never finished or complete products that can be preserved in their current form.
    4. Plurality of meaning in place – the cultural landscapes of different cultural groups and sub-cultures may overlap or intersect, creating a richness and diversity that stems from parallel relationships with the same place. Similarly, the social diversity within cultural groups may result in cultural landscapes that are characterised by a multiplicity of contrasting practices and experiences of place that resist being captured in a single narrative. The plurality associated with cultural landscapes is often part and parcel of a contested politics of place.
    5. Interrelationship of elements – a cultural landscape is defined by the interrelationship of cultural elements in or associated with place that resist being divided into discrete categories such as moveable/immoveable, material/immaterial, or physical/cultural. A cultural landscape is the assemblage of buildings, structures, public spaces, private spaces, and imaginary spaces, as well as the practices, performances and rituals of inhabitation. In other words, a cultural landscape is the ‘ecology’ of cultural ideas, objects, places and practices..


      The promotion of a more creative, holistic and flexible approach towards managing urban development would be greatly assisted by the implementation of policies that incorporate the key principles contained in the observations above. The framework for such an approach is enshrined in the UNESCO Recommendation on Historic Urban Landscapes which addresses the need to better integrate and frame urban heritage conservation strategies within the larger goals of overall sustainable development. Policy should be crafted to support public and private actions aimed at preserving and enhancing the quality of the human environment. It suggests a landscape approach for identifying, conserving and managing historic areas within their broader urban contexts by considering the interrelationships of their physical forms, their spatial organisation and connection – their natural features and settings and their social, cultural and economic values (Article 5). It puts cultural heritage and natural heritage together with creative contemporary development as interrelated parts of an overall approach to sustainable development.  

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21 – 19 January 2016


·         Lisa Prosper – Director Willowbank Centre for Cultural Landscape (Ontario, Canada), Submission to ‘City of Toronto’s Official Plan Amendment to Adopt new Heritage and Public Realm Policies’ – 11 October 2012.

·         UNESCO, Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape, including a glossary of definitions, 10 November 2011 – 

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