Cultural Landscape Analysis

Garrett Street Charlottesville, April 4, 1915; Rufus W. Holsinger, photographer; Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.

Cultural landscapes, landscapes created by human culture and technology, have distinct spatial patterns and settlement practices that are shaped by social routines as well as geographical conditions. Cultural landscape is also a way of seeing, thinking, and interpreting urban, suburban, rural, and industrial places. It applies rich and productive cross-disciplinary approaches that entangle history, cultural practices, and biophysical systems in the pursuit of uncovering the form, meaning, and processes that differentiate one place from another. Over the past quarter century, cultural landscape has become an increasingly important lens through which geographers, architectural historians, landscape architects, planners, preservationists, anthropologists interpret and manage the built and shaped environment.

The cultural landscape of the Pollock’s Branch watershed was analyzed by the project team to support the creation of the Digital Atlas documenting the interpretation of the project area. The project team undertook fieldwork; collection and review of existing conditions and historic period mapping, spatial data, and other materials and documents; and investigated the physical and intrinsic qualities of the project area. The team did not undertake the typical cultural landscape analysis that focuses on deconstructing and documenting the physical. Instead, the team identified through site reading and research the physical and social and political forces that have contributed to shaping the watershed.  The Team investigated and explored manipulated topography and hydrology, the relationship of urban renewal and landscape transformation, evolving land uses, the physical and social and political factors shaping community identify, the role of names in defining place, and how landscapes, including mysterious places, support play and imagination.

And, most importantly, preliminary mapping investigations were refined and transformed by the information yielded by the analysis of documented responses of workshop participants. This was a circular and iterative process of participant responses informing and transforming the cultural landscape analysis.