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The University of Valencia Chair for Citizen Engagement and Valencian Landscapes: a keystone of the Valencian Community's landscape policy

Emilio Iranzo
Chair for Citizen Engagement and Valencian Landscapes

In 2004, the Valencian Community acceded to the European Landscape Convention (ELC, Florence, 2000). Accession to the ELC signified a major commitment, namely incorporating its principles into the legal and administrative framework of the Valencian Community, and marked a watershed in the way we manage our land. This was immediately embodied in Law 4/2004 of the Valencian Government on spatial planning and landscape protection (hereinafter, LOTPP), the legal instrument that would lay the foundation of the Valencian Community's entire landscape policy.

From the outset, the Valencian landscape policy sought to establish the necessary legal, technical and institutional mechanisms to ensure the population's well-being, incorporating landscape criteria and citizen engagement in spatial and city planning processes. However, the initial momentum and good work carried out by politicians and specialists at the Valencian Government's Directorate General for Territory and Landscape clashed with a still limited territorial culture, pressure from an unabated property sector in the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, scant technical and administrative know-how for rolling out the planned instruments and, above all, a lack of political will to uphold the commitment made to the ELC.

Although included in Article 37 of the LOTPP of 2004, it was not until 2011, by Decree 1/2011, that the Spatial Strategy of the Valencian Community (hereinafter ETCV) was approved. This was the core instrument meant to frame spatial, urban and landscape planning policies and those with territorial impact, with an ultimate view to shaping the Valencian Community's territorial and economic model. Not all attempts to implement instruments meant to pursue the aims of the LOTPP and the ETCV at the subregional or sector-specific level were successful. Thus, proposals and preliminary drafts of territorial action plans were either watered down or remained "dormant".

A turning point in this ordeal occurred thanks to the legislative reform embodied in Law 5/2014 of the Valencian Community on spatial planning, urban planning and landscape (hereinafter LOTUP) and the renewed political sensitivity shown by the government agencies in recent years. The LOTUP strove to coordinate and simplify the pre-existing regulatory framework with territorial, environmental, economic, social and, of course, landscape implications. In addition, planning instruments were reactivated.

The LOTUP (2014) has also been modified and adjusted in recent years to provide Valencians with a suitable legal framework on which to base their territorial landscape policy. A shift seems to be afoot, with the political powers that be now opening their eyes to territorial and landscape issues. A further step in this process is the current preparation of the Regulation on Spatial and Landscape Planning, which will serve to specify how the instruments and procedures provided for by law should be applied.

It is within this framework of renewed political sensitivity towards implementing the guidelines of the European Landscape Convention in which the University of Valencia Chair for Citizen Engagement and Valencian Landscapes comes into being. The Chair is designed to act as an academic platform for reflection, research and knowledge transfer on landscape and citizen engagement. All within a framework of collaboration between the Valencian Ministry of Spatial Policy, Public Works and Mobility and the University of Valencia, for the promotion of knowledge and dissemination of Valencian landscapes.

Since 2016, the Chair for Citizen Engagement and Valencian Landscapes has become consolidated as an effective instrument of the University of Valencia and the Ministry of Spatial Policy, Public Works and Mobility for rounding out aspects of the Valencian Community's landscape policy. The need to raise social awareness around landscape-related values and engage citizens in spatial planning makes the Chair a highly appealing tool, as it acts as a territorial antenna that broadcasts the spirit of the LOTUP (2014) and the European Landscape Convention (2000). It is also a driver of new actions and projects, such as the Mental and Collaborative Atlas of Valencian Landscapes, that are in line with the spatial and landscape policy of the Valencian Community.

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