What are we preserving when we preserve urban public space?

A critical survey of landmarks and preservation systems at the municipal, national, and international levels

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa, Italy. UNESCO World Heritage site #395. Inscribed 30 December 1986. (UNESCO 1986)

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa, Italy. UNESCO World Heritage site #395. Inscribed 30 December 1986. (UNESCO 1986)


Urban public spaces are an important part of the urban environment and supports the physical, social and mental health of an entire region. The promise of preservation and landmarking is to preserve what is historically significant to mankind’s heritage. Simply put, without preservation, public spaces are at risk. Preservation suggests that a site has historic significance, and surely while the primary goal of preservation is to preserve significant pieces of history, the greatest urban benefit of preserving spaces is that it also maintains the presence of these spaces in cities.

In order to properly understand the implications of preserving urban public space, systems of preservation at municipal, national and international levels are studied. In this study, the municipal, national and international organizations studied are the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee, the US National Historic Landmarks Program, and the UNESCO World Heritage Center, respectively. For each organization, the systems of preservation are surveyed. This includes the governing bodies, the defined criteria for historic significance, the legal status and protection responsibilities, and the benefits of designation. For each organization, relevant typological and unique case studies of designated urban public place landmarks are presented and analyzed.

In order to successfully understand how or why spaces can be designated as landmarks, one must first understand the organizations of preservation and the implicit and explicit systems they use to evaluate significance. Without a proper education and understanding of how and why these spaces are valued by preservation organizations, we risk losing these ever-important players in our cities.


Full paper available upon request.

Advisor: Alan Plattus.

(Independent study Master's thesis: 107 pages. Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch. 2015)