By David Myers

The critical first step in protecting significant cultural resources is having baseline information on what and where they are, as well as their current status and potential uses. This information is essential for those involved in managing or trying to affect change in legacy cities and for urban revitalization. City and regional agencies play a crucial role in collecting and making available such baseline information through their cultural resource inventories (which are often added to and updated through historic resource surveys).

Inventories are a critical tool for making proactive, timely, and informed decisions, especially when high demolition and/or redevelopment pressures exist. They are most effective when city and regional agencies are able to harness modern information technologies that 1) offer widespread and easy access to key information and 2) allow records to be easily updated to reflect changing conditions. However, developing and maintaining effective digital inventory systems and sustaining related data is a costly and difficult undertaking that can be beyond the reach of many organizations and agencies.

In an environment of diminishing resources for heritage organizations and municipal governments, the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund created the Arches Heritage Inventory and Management System, a modern enterprise-level open source software platform designed for use by heritage institutions around the world. Arches—web-based and geospatially enabled—is purpose-built for managing inventories of all types of heritage places, including buildings, structures, historic districts, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes. As an open source platform, Arches is available at no cost and is customizable to meet organizations’ particular needs. Organizations may choose to provide unrestricted access to their Arches implementation and data or limit access. Arches is designed to be as intuitive as possible to allow authorized users to enter, edit, and search data with little technical training.

Arches is already being used by a wide range of heritage organizations internationally. Organizations that have deployed Arches in the U.S. include:

  • City of Los Angeles: The City of Los Angeles has implemented Arches as HistoricPlacesLA (, the official Los Angeles Historic Resources Inventory, as a tool to fulfill its obligations under federal, state, and local historic preservation laws; to provide input to its planning processes; and to make information publicly accessible.

Screenshot of HistoricPlacesLA showing clusters representing over 25,000 cultural resources identified to date by the City of Los Angeles. Credit: City of Los Angeles.


  • Queen Anne’s County, Maryland: Queen Anne’s County is implementing Arches to present and help preserve more than 300 years of its history of individuals, properties, and events that are significant to the nation, Maryland, and Queen Anne’s County. This Arches deployment is slated to go public later in 2017.
  • Cane River National Heritage Area: The Cane River National Heritage Area in Louisiana has implemented Arches as the Cane River Heritage Inventory and Map ( to manage information on cultural resources and to promote public knowledge, appreciation, and interest in them.

Screenshot of the Cane River Heritage Inventory and Map including integration of historic basemap. Credit: Cane River National Heritage Area.

  • Armed Forces Retirement Home: The Armed Forces Retirement Home, a 272-acre historic residential campus in Washington, DC, established in 1851 for military veterans and managed by a federal agency, is using Arches ( as a tool to inventory and manage its important cultural resources.

Other organizations around the world have implemented Arches, including as national inventories in Asia and the Caribbean. Implementations are now being prepared in the U.S. by the City and County of San Francisco and in the UK by Historic England for Greater London and by the City of Lincoln.

The Arches project is now finalizing development of version 4.0 of the platform, which includes numerous enhancements, such as tools for customization and configuration. Development is also now starting on an Arches online/offline mobile data collection app, which is planned for completion by the end of 2017.

To learn more, visit the Arches project website at

Using the location filter in Arches, resources that would be impacted by a proposed development project can be quickly identified. Credit: City of Los Angeles.

The Related Resources graph reveals relationships between Arches resources, in this instance between an architect and heritage resources as well as other persons related to those heritage resources (such as owners and occupants). Credit: Arches Project.

David Myers is Senior Project Specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute.


About this series

This is the final post in a series that has explored how others are using data to support, improve, and create good preservation practices. The Action Agenda prioritizes data collection and analysis to support key efforts of legacy city preservation:

Action Item 3: Use data to support and improve good practices.

Preservationists need data that goes beyond the facts of buildings, styles, and architects. Good data and layered multidisciplinary analysis can inform strategic decision-making on the ground, prioritize limited funds, support coalition-building with organizations in allied fields, direct preservationists in refining practices and tools in challenging legacy city contexts, and shape effective advocacy efforts. In particular, rigorous analysis should examine how reinvesting in older and historic buildings and neighborhoods compares to demolition with regard to social, economic, and environmental outcomes such as community stability, foreclosures, and property values.