Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide June 2011
Bridging A Divide and Building Consensus About the Jay Property

Landscape design and environmental stewardship took center stage on June 4th, 2011 at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, NY with its first full day Sustainable Landscape Symposium, "Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide". Co-sponsored by the The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) of Washington DC, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), The Preservation League of New York State, The New-York Historical Society and with support through a grant from Con Edison, the event addressed the challenges and opportunities inherent in preserving historic landscapes and public parks like the 23 acre Jay Property on Boston Post Road.

Almost 70 visitors, including local Rye teachers, historic site directors and ASLA professionals from across the country attended and walked the grounds that were saved in 1992 by the grassroots actions of more than 62 historic and environmental groups and the 5 founding women of the Jay Coalition and today's Jay Heritage Center. Opening remarks were made by TCLF President and Founder Charles Birnbaum, who spent 15 years as the coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative (HLI) and a decade in private practice in New York City with a focus on landscape preservation and urban design. He applauded the Jay Heritage Center for its outstanding work to date and the millions of dollars invested. Together with landscape architect, Patricia O'Donnell, he reviewed the history of the Jay Property, later opening the floor to discussion of what lay ahead in managing this landmark park in a sustainable way.

The audience heard from a total of 6 nationally recognized speakers, each with a vast portfolio of experiences at other nationally recognized historic sites. West Coast landscape architect, Cheryl Barton, demonstrated how historic photographs of places are utilized in design. She presented several projects including the Sutro Baths and Cavallo Point in San Francisco, and the UVA South Lawn in Charlottesville, Virginia where the images of historic landscape structures like turn-of-the-century bathhouses, tennis courts and an African American grave site are inspiring modern representations with holographic lights and "shadow makers" rather than exact reproductions or complete restorations.

Author and garden photographer Rick Darke presented powerful images of landscapes and terrains like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater where sensitive "edits" or choices of the right local plant materials helped establish beautiful and healthy environments that demanded minimal maintenance. He contrasted these with succession woodlands overbrowsed by deer or acres where the "let nature take its course" had resulted in lack of biodiversity and monocultures of less desirable trees and plants.

Following a reception on the veranda of the Jay mansion, everyone was unanimous in their desire to return for another symposium next year.

[O]ne of America's intrinsic sacred sites --'specially special,' if you like -- because a great family's great house and its great and sweeping surrounding landscape have, almost miraculously, both survived intact and are now a permanent part of the America the next centuries of Americans will build." Tony Hiss, Author, Experience of Place.

Jay Heritage Center
210 Boston Post Road
Rye, NY 10580
(914) 698-9275

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