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Ten years of the European Landscape Convention: Ordenació i gestió del paisatge a Europa

Rafael Mata Olmo
Department of Geography, Autonomous University of Madrid

The year that has just begun is the tenth anniversary of the ratification of the European Landscape Convention (ELC). For most of Europe and especially for Spain, the first decade of the 21st century was a period of great territorial change with negative consequences for the quality and values of many landscapes. Directed by the implacable logic of the market, the magnitude and speed of these changes, linked in good measure with urban development but also with processes of agricultural intensification and abandonment, have led to the belief among the public that such transformations are inevitable and shaped by uncontrollable dynamics.

Therefore, the Convention is being incorporated into the field of policy at a relatively unfavourable juncture. In many cases it must swim against the current, but it does so with proposals that are renovative and absolutely necessary at the present time. All landscapes are important. According to my understanding, this is the Convention's main message, and it is for this reason that its recommendations are not merely reactive or protective of the most notable landscapes; above all the Convention is proactive and addressed to all landscapes, whether unique or banal, commonplace or of interest to visitors, and to the quality of people's living environment.

This stance with regard to landscape - and with regard to each landscape - though full of theoretical and practical challenges, is guiding the policies of countries, regions and localities in Europe. This is the first conclusion drawn after reading the book Ordenació i gestió del paisatge a Europa, published by the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia, the second publication in the "Eines" (Tools) series. This work fulfils its role as a tool because it provides a rich and clarifying survey of landscape action initiatives in European countries that had already gained experience prior to the approval of the European Landscape Convention, and of others, such as in Catalonia and most of the autonomous communities of Spain, that have incorporated landscape into their policy agendas since the Convention was ratified. In all cases, the Convention is taking shape as a meeting point, a platform and a common language for renewing landscape policy. This is a positive fact, and it should be highlighted above and beyond the problems and uncertainties provoked by implementing the Convention.

The book's organisation into three large blocs - tools for management and planning, tools for integration and tools for concerting strategies regarding landscape - are adapted to the instruments created and developed by the Catalan Landscape Law. But the work goes further, responding with good criteria to the major lines of action on landscape, whether public or private, which are aimed at all landscapes and the multiple dimensions of landscape reality; at the integration of new uses, infrastructure and built elements into the identity of each landscape; and at a way of governing territory based on participation and concertation.

The technical and policy options for formulating landscape directives, as well as the scales of intervention, vary according to the country or region. Regardless, most are linked with spatial management and spatial planning tools, and they overcome certain legal positions in practice, such as the Italian Code for Cultural and Landscape Assets, in which treatment of landscape continues to be protectionist and focused on unique sites.

Moreover, action on landscape is based on a still-nonexistent task of systematically learning about and valuing landscape. It deals with an open and complex issue resulting from the integrative concept adopted for landscape, which lacks a pre-established methodology, and from the commitment to act on all types of landscape. Nevertheless, the experiences with atlases, catalogues and inventories collected in this book clearly demonstrate an effort at convergence which rises above divergences in discipline and moves toward territorial knowledge of the character of landscapes, of their identity and of what makes them different, without them being better or worse than others. Watching over the health of landscapes, protecting them in certain cases, managing them and introducing new uses to them, recovering them and even creating them, all involve paying attention and giving priority to the socially-perceived character of a territory. Together with the atlases and catalogues, the guides on good practices and on landscape integration criteria such as those created in the United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland - and prominently in Catalonia - influence the central role of this notion of character when making decisions to soften impacts and integrate infrastructure.

The first ten years of the European Landscape Convention and the rich repertory of experiences, successes and frustrations documented in the Observatory's book bring us back to my way of viewing the issue in depth, beyond the technical and administrative aspects in which it will be necessary to make progress in the future. I am referring to the challenge of governance that the Convention suggests with respect to landscape protection, planning and management. In a context of generalised deregulation, social immobility and the deterioration of traditional systems for practicing representative democracy, with the "market as a new arbiter of social wellbeing", the Convention proposes new ways of learning about and acting on people's quality of life in a rather explicit way. Along with coordination and cooperation by public administrations, action on landscape requires participation, involvement and concertation such as that promoted by the landscape charters in France and Catalonia. In addition to procedures and regulated instruments, it also requires platforms and networks for the public, institutions and experts that are committed to practicing deliberative democracy and to fostering a culture of territory above political and economic junctures.

Rafael Mata Olmo Department of Geography, Autonomous University of Madrid

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