Do You Know UNESCO?

View From Table Mountain

Quick, can you name the 20 sites in the United States designated by the United Nations as World Heritage Sites?

Robben IslandIf you are like me, the answer is probably no. On my trip to South Africa, I was struck by how proud that country is of its 8 sites, which includes Robben Island and the Cape Floral Region, both seen here. Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has sought to identify, protect, and preserve natural and cultural sites around the world of “outstanding value to humanity.” The list currently contains 660 cultural, 166 natural and 25 mixed properties in 141 countries. (The UNESCO website is also quite good, with an interactive map and RSS feeds)

For the record, here’s the U.S. sites that made the list, along with the year of their addition.

Cultural: La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico (1983), Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (1982), Chaco Culture (1987), Independence Hall (1979), Mesa Verde National Park (1978), Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (1987), Pueblo de Taos (1992), Statue of Liberty (1984)

Natural: Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1995), Everglades National Park (1979), Grand Canyon National Park (1979), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1983), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1987), Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979), Mammoth Cave National Park (1981), Olympic National Park (1981), Redwood National and State Parks (1980), Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995), Yellowstone National Park (1978), Yosemite National Park (1984)

Americans may be more familiar with the National Park Service’s roughly 2,400 National Historic Landmarks, or the much larger National Register of Historic Places, which contains 96,373 entries and counting.

> UNESCO World Heritage List
> U.S. National Register of Historic Places

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Author: Rob Goodspeed


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  2. The tentative list of US sites that might be submitted for consideration as World Heritage sites is about to be updated, not having changed since 1990. There are only 20 now, in large part because the United States was not a member of UNESCO for almost two decades. We should be more proud of our cultural and natural heritage in this country. Moreover, the government should do a better job in seeking recognition for U.S. sites from the World Heritage Center.

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