Regional Interpretation - Linking our Natural and Cultural Identities

Schwetz, Gary
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University of Delaware
As a horticulturist, it may be easier to be convinced that appreciation of land and place are at the root of our survival, or to borrow the title of Wes Jackson’s recent book, that human identity pivots upon Becoming Native to your Place. Professionals in other fields are advocating similar philosophies as this quote from a landscape architect suggests: Conservation of the regional landscape provides an integrative fabric that we need so that all places are not reduced to some woefully deficient common denominator--deficient in identity, aesthetic quality, and rational responses to environmental influences (Litton 1 994). The need for regional interpretation is underscored by the following conjectures about the present state of society from authors in diverse disciplines: heightened indifference to the land, separation of nature and culture, incomplete ecological literacy, increased vulnerability of the land, and decline in community and civic integrity. Interpretation of the cultural and natural aspects of a region is a fitting endeavor for public gardens and museums. They have a vested interest in and well matched physical resources for furthering community identity and stability. It is more than just a romantic notion to become native to your place: it is to understand that physical and spiritual sustenance comes from the land. Regional interpretation can serve to elevate the role of a public garden, as a more respected community resource. This study utilizes qualitative research methodology to develop an understanding and description of regional interpretation. Programs, activities, and approaches of three exemplary institutions of regional focus are analyzed, communicating common themes and motivations of regional interpretation. The case study institutions held up the following themes as pertinent to their actions: 1) involve and serve the local community, 2) instill ecological literacy and stewardship of the land, and 3) catalyze change on issues of regional importance. These themes are realized through a philosophy of uplifting and preserving the understanding of human connection to the natural landscape. Celebrating the local heritage, natural and cultural, is a prevailing objective in the rhetoric and activities of these regional institutions. In effect, the regional perspective becomes a common ground of learning and enjoyment for the audience and a niche of social good will and enlightened self interest for the institution. The altruistic purpose of these and other public institutions is to enrich the quality of life for the long term. Regional interpretation accomplishes that through providing a grasp of the biologically and socially unique features of the environment to the particular region’s inhabitants. Regionalism compels a philosophy of knowing the natural features of the land, its inhabitants and history, and an obligation to live within the physical, ecological, and cultural boundaries defined by these factors.
Interpretation , Land stewardship , Regional interpretation , Community