Defining Cultural Landscapes

Cultural Landscapes

Provide a sense of place and identity; they map our relationship with the land over time; and they are part of our national heritage and each of our lives.

A cultural landscape is a site associated with a significant event, activity, person or group of people. Cultural landscapes can range from thousands of acres of rural land to historic homesteads. They can be grand estates, farmlands, public gardens and parks, college campuses, cemeteries, scenic highways, and industrial sites. Cultural landscapes are works of art, narratives of cultures, and expressions of regional identity.

There are Four Types of cultural landscapes and a site can fall under several categories.

Donnell Garden

Designed Landscape
a landscape that was consciously designed or laid out by a landscape architect, master gardener, architect or horticulturist according to design principles or an amateur gardener working in a recognized style or tradition.
see: Donnell Garden, Sonoma, CA

Acoma Pueblo

Vernacular Landscape
a landscape that evolved through use by the people whose activities or occupancy shaped that landscape. Through social or cultural attitudes of an individual, family or a community, the landscape reflects the physical, biological, and cultural character of those everyday lives. see: Acoma Pueblo, NM

Nine Mile Canyon

Historic Site
a landscape significant for its association with a historic event, activity or person.
see: Olana, Hudson, NY


Nine Mile Canyon

Ethnographic Landscape
a landscape containing a variety of natural and cultural resources that the associated people define as heritage resources.
see: Nine Mile Canyon, UT

Learn more about these definitions and ways to steward a cultural landscape


Why are cultural landscapes important?

Cultural landscapes are a legacy for everyone. These special sites reveal aspects of our country’s origins and development as well as our evolving relationships with the natural world. They provide scenic, economic, ecological, social, recreational, and educational opportunities helping communities to better understand themselves.

Why is it important to protect cultural landscapes?

Neglect and inappropriate development put our irreplaceable landscape legacy increasingly at risk. Too often today’s short-sighted decisions threaten the survival and continuity of our shared heritage. It is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard our nation’s cultural landscapes. The ongoing care and interpretation of these sites improves our quality of life and deepens a sense of place and identity for future generations.