The World Heritage List consists of "properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value." UNESCO identifies these sites all over the world — monuments, parks, cities — for either their cultural or natural significance.
Machu Picchu and 27 other World Heritage Sites (out of almost 1,000) have been classified as "mixed" properties: they are recognized for both their cultural and natural value.
In 1987, the University of Virginia earned a cultural World Heritage Site classification — the only university in the U.S. and one of only three universities in the world to do so. This is extraordinary, of course, but what if the university strove for more? What if UVA strove to enhance and conserve both its region and the world?
The "natural" classification means a site has, among other characteristics, "superlative natural phenomena ... representing major stages of Earth's history, including the record of life." What if highlighting and embracing the "superlative natural phenomena" of the grounds was the best way of preserving our cultural legacy? The original grounds was 90% greenspace including an iconic central lawn and ten gardens filled with symbolic plants. In addition, we live in a "major stage of Earth's history" and through this natural and cultural synergy can provide an example of not just a 21st, but a 22nd century university.
"Cradle-to-Cradle" is a world-renowned book co-authored by former Dean of the UVA Architecture School William McDonough and Michael Braungart. They cast a vision for a world that designs in a way that materials are reused indefinitely, unlike in today's "take-make-waste" process. What if, like the book's ideas, the university's legacy to the world was cradle-to-cradle?
How will we know whether UVA has achieved this? It won't be through recognition by UNESCO, but by the future generations' history books telling the story of how Thomas Jefferson's vision for this Academical Village combined cultural and natural endowments to provide for itself and for its graduates' generation. University president Teresa Sullivan explains, "The university's founder was a great naturalist ... In the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, we see the environment as our shared treasure ... we affirm our commitment to protect and preserve the environment through education, research, and dedication to continuous improvement in operations across the university."
Legacies last as long as they have value. How will the future see UVA's legacy?