San Diego, California, USA

10 Lessons for Mapping Site Values

Written by
Victoria Herrmann
July 3, 2023

Why is your site special?


Answering this seemingly simple question is the starting point of the Preserving Legacies process, and of our first in-person workshop on mapping community values of cultural and natural heritage sites.


To safeguard a cultural or natural heritage site from climate change impacts, we must first understand why places are special to the communities that care for them – what values do sites hold and how do these values intersect with one another? Values are a measure of worth or importance. They are the reasons a place is considered important. And as sites can have many different values, is in important to understand, map, and prioritize them together as a community.

To learn more about values and their physical attributes, explore our educational resources here.


Understanding the impact of climate change on sites must always be values-driven and the process must accept, acknowledge, and recognize a plurality of value systems. Different places can mean different things to different people, and while most professionals in the field of cultural heritage may focus on the preservation of historic, aesthetic, and scientific values, climate change will also impact the economic, social, religious, and natural values of sites and landscapes. Understanding these different values requires us to take an inclusive approach to stakeholder engagement and to listen carefully to communities who live in and around our sites.


In March 2023, the Preserving Legacies team met at the University of San Diego to gain an understanding of heritage significance and values within a heritage conservation context, both Outstanding Universal Values within a World Heritage conservation context and the wider values associated with heritage sites and communities.


The Preserving Legacies Values Workshop produced 10 important lessons to consider when mapping values with your own community:


1. When considering the values of a site, it is important to map values holistically and reflect on all the diverse ways a site is special. These values include but are not limited to Outstanding Universal Values, community values, Indigenous values, medicinal values, educational values, tourism values, financial values, spirituality, connection to livelihoods, historical value, cultural value, religious values, architectural values, processes, biodiversity, ancestral, emotional, technological, or scientific, archeological values, and symbolic values.


2.    A site’s values can be important on different scales. The meaning a site holds for a local community can be just as important as the global significance of a site across space and time. It is important to honor both and understand how different scales of value interact with one another.


3.    Values, like culture itself, are dynamic. Landscapes, community values, connections, knowledge systems, and intangible heritage are not static. Rather, they can shift, evolve, and change over time. When mapping community values of a heritage site, and their vulnerability to climate change impacts, those values and their attributes cannot be analyzed as inactive. Values are dynamic, both because our relationship to heritage changes and because it's physicality, processes, and knowledge systems upon which human connection to the site are built may change over time.


4.    No site is devoid of a connection to nature. It is important to reflect on the relationship between nature and culture – the symmetry and tensions of place, people, nature, culture. Throughout time, communities develop based on nature, and nature develops based on communities. As you reflect on the values of your site, consider not only the landscape, climate, and ecosystem’s influence on culture, but also the impressions cultures and communities have left on nature itself.


5.    Values can be a learning link that connects present practices to the past. From generation to generation, histories, ancestral knowledge, and intangible traditions imbued in sites can bolster resilience, sustainability, and cohesion today. But from generation to generation, we have lost knowledge from colonialism, imperialism, discriminatory policies, and changing lifestyles.  


6.    The values of a site can be part of a bigger system, one that extends beyond the designated boundaries of a site to include wider ecosystems, settlements, and cultures. While management often focuses on the boundaries of a designated site or park, the values derived from the site can extend beyond its formal borders to also include wider ecosystems, communities, tangible and intangible heritage, religions, identities, and socio-economic systems. When mapping values, expand your view of which geographies – both physical and intangible – are included.


7.    When values are in tension with one another, it is a delicate process to decide how and whose values get prioritized. Understanding who needs to be engaged, why they need to be engaged, and how they would like to be engaged is essential. 


8.    Stakeholder engagement is essential in understanding site values and management, but not all stakeholders have the same rights and responsibilities of stewardship over the site. Stakeholders is often used as a blanket term to describe an individual, group, or organization that stands to be impacted by the outcome of a process or project, but some groups, likeIndigenous Peoples, are not stakeholders. Indigenous Peoples are rights and title holders, holding the right to own, use, develop, and control their lands, territories, and cultural resources. Defining who is a rights holder and who isa stakeholder will differ at each site and is an important first step to understanding who should be invited to or lead the values mapping process.


9.     Management of people is just as important as managing the site. Carefully managing how we listen to community members, how we build our table to be inclusive of all voices, and how visiting experts to the site engage in the co-creation of plans is all part of managing the process of mapping values and ultimately managing the site. Those engaged in mapping values will be different at each site, so it is important to ask the critical questions that will be place-specific: Who should get a say in how your sites are managed? Is it those who are professionally engaged?Community members? Government? Creating a plan for how to best listen and how prioritize engagement is an important first step in mapping values.  


10.  Understanding a site’s values is critical because it allows us to understand what is impacted by climate change and why it matters. Co-creating a list of site values is the first step in the Preserving Legacies process to understand what is at risk from climate change-related hazards at your site. It documents for you and your community what to prioritize safeguarding as our world warms.