Spatial analysis of cultural heritage landscapes in rural China: Land use change and its risks for conservation

Environmental Management, 2016 (57): 1304-1318
Huirong Yu, Peter H. Verberg, Liming Liu, and David A. Eitelberg
Land use change – and, with it, increased urbanization – is a persistent pressure on the world’s valued cultural landscapes. In response, many landscape professionals and academics work constantly at the nexus between maintaining longstanding value and making pragmatic planning decisions. Yet solutions, and even guidelines to reaching solutions, are not always clear. Too often we wish we had the foresight to better prioritize our efforts and identify the vulnerability of individual landscapes and sites.
Yu et al. address this challenge in their comprehensive study of cultural landscapes in rural China. The authors present a robust framework to better assess threats to traditional landscapes, and in turn better prepare planning efforts across the world’s most populous country. Beyond China, however, the methods and framework used in this study may be of benefit for anyone involved in planning at the regional, national, or international scale.
In the study, the authors embarked on a two component methodology. The first is a typology analysis of cultural heritage landscapes. Here, the authors characterize the distribution of cultural villages across the country. As a next step, the authors use land use change maps and model simulations (extending to 2050) to assess threats to these landscapes. They found that an increasing number of China’s formerly rural traditional landscapes are being incorporated into peri-urban areas. In both current and predicted scenarios, these landscapes and traditional heritage villages are under pressure of increased land use change and urbanization at varying intensities. The authors also discuss the value in anticipating the locations of future designated cultural landscapes.
Yu et al. overview of methods

Overview of the methods (Yu et al. 2016)

This assessment can be a valuable resource for American landscape professionals. A framework to analyze present and future land use pressures to traditional landscapes may provide outstanding application for those of us working in the field of cultural landscape management. In its robustness, this study offers one means by which to categorize cultural heritage landscapes, as well as identify the nature and urgency of land use change. In this way, these methods may serve to ground perception of threats in the landscape, and in turn offer support as we develop better research and management plans.
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