Cultural Landscape Expert to Speak
To local historian and preservationist Ray Owen, Charles Birnbaum is a rock star of sorts.
Considered an expert in the field of cultural landscape, Birnbaum will be the guest speaker at a free lecture titled "Our Cultural Landscape," at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines. The event is part of The Classical Design Foundation's lecture series.
"It's like meeting The Beatles," said Owen, founder of the Classical Design Foundation. "We may never have this opportunity again."
Cultural landscape is a geographic area that includes cultural and natural resources associated with an historic event, activity, person or group of people.
Birnbaum is the founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (CLF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the public's awareness of the importance and irreplaceable legacy of cultural landscapes. It utilizes education, technical assistance and outreach to to broaden the support and understanding for cultural landscapes nationwide in hopes of saving heritage for future generations.
"No one is doing what he is doing right now," said Mary Ruffin Hanbury, of Hanbury Preservation Consulting in Raleigh, who has done work in Southern Pines. "He's a definite authority on cultural and historic landscapes. His credentials are unparalleled."
Birnbaum's lecture will center around the issues of change and continuity in cultural landscapes in Southern Pines, utilizing specific locations in town, such as Weymouth Heights.
"Weymouth is a perfect example," Birnbaum said. "There is a focus on the natural resources and a focus on the history of the structures, but there is very little that tells me about the history of the landscape."
According to the CLF Web site, cultural landscapes are enormously beneficial because they reveal aspects of an area's origins and development while also revealing much about our evolving relationships with the natural world. They provide scenic, economic, ecological, social, recreational and educational opportunities that help individuals and communities understand themselves.
The CLF defines four types of cultural landscapes: historic sites, historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes and ethnographic landscapes.
Preserving those landscapes is important, the site says, because their ongoing preservation and interpretation can yield an improved quality of life and a sense of place and identity for future generations.
"Most of these places are not threatened with bulldozers, but are dying a quiet death because they are not being cared for properly," Birnbaum said.
Birnbaum also said that key to preserving these sites is understanding history.
When asked for an example of a location or area that has handled change in a culturally and historically responsible manner, Birnbaum didn't hesitate, naming Biltmore.
He said the Asheville landmark has grown, evolved and thrived without harming the cultural landscape of the area thanks to a holistic approach to preservation.
In addition to his work with CLF, Birnbaum has had a storied career. Prior to joining the foundation, Birnbaum spent 15 years as the coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative and a decade in private practice with a focus on landscape preservation and urban design.
He has worked on numerous projects and earned multiple awards for his work, including the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation (2004). He won the LaGasse Medal from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2007.
The idea to bring Birnbaum to Southern Pines originated when Owen, a member of the town's Long-Range Planning Committee, began looking for ways to elicit more public input into planning.
As Owen sought ideas, he ran across a member of a local garden club who suggested bringing Birnbaum to town. Owen contacted Birnbaum, who expressed an interest in coming to speak.
"I have never been to Southern Pines," Birnbaum said in a brief phone interview. "I have traveled extensively in North Carolina, but this will be my first visit to Southern Pines. I am very excited."
Lawrence Earley, author of "Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest," will introduce Birnbaum.
Birnbaum will visit Pinehurst and have a luncheon meeting Thursday at a private residence with invited guests, including representatives from the village.
Birnbaum's organization placed Pinehurst on a "Landslide" list in 2006. Established in 2002, the list focuses on culturally significant landscapes at risk for alteration or destruction. Pinehurst was placed on the list because of the proposed roundabout near the Resort. Pinehurst, which is a National Historic Landmark, was also placed on a watch list by the National Park Service when the roundabout was proposed. After a lengthy legal battle, the roundabout was completed last November.
Locations can be removed if significant changes to the area occur. Pinehurst's status has not changed, and Birnbaum declined to talk specifics about the village, saying he didn't want to take away from the main reason for his trip -- his talk in Southern Pines.
"I am going there with a clean slate," he said. "I haven't been there (Pinehurst) in more than 15 years," Birnbaum said. "I see things through different eyes these days."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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