Logo Observatori del Paisatge
52. Gener-marÁ 17
Quarterly Newsletter of the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia

New geographies in the Mediterranean landscape

Maria Gabriella Trovato
Landscape Assistant Professor, Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management Department, American University of Beirut

Every day, millions of people leave their countries in search for better chances in life. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), five years after the war started in Syria, 11 million refugees have fled across borders. 4.8 million escaped to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, 6.6 million are displaced within Syria, and more than 212,000 people are trapped in besieged areas without access to humanitarian assistance.

Migration and refugee movements in the Mediterranean countries have gained unprecedented momentum, while the situation along migratory routes to Europe, and within Europe itself, changes rapidly (www.syrianrefugees.eu).

Along the Mediterranean Sea, a dynamic landscape is continuously being rebuilt, determining an overlapping of human timing and different identities. The daily transitional movements and population shift from one nation to another or within the same country transform and structure our world in economic, social, political, religious, and especially spatial terms. Over time, these migrations are re-making the morphological organization of the land, creating a landscape as self-organized territory. In their movements and relocations, communities are organizing space to meet their housing needs in an accelerated process of settlement that considers individuals as numbers and living simply as an occupation of the land.

In most cases, the host countries are not prepared to accommodate the new arrivals. According to Sassen, "These flows may well be the merest beginnings of new histories and geographies made by men, women and children in desperate escape from unsustainable conditions" (Sassen, 2015). Those new assets required that functional, productive and socio/cultural, aesthetic values are equally considered   because important in the organization of the land as product of political and cultural decision.

Thus, a question is on the table: How can we harmonize and coordinate the needs of both the host communities and the refugees and their mutual responsibility towards spatial, cultural, economic, environmental, aesthetic, and social aspects of the land?

The new risk landscape presents profound managerial and policy challenges for municipalities.  Cities and metropolitan governments are now obliged to deal with exponential rates of urban immigration; protect and conserve the surrounding landscapes and ecosystem services sourced outside their geopolitical boundaries; ensure sufficient energy supplies for their industry and residents; finance, construct and maintain hard infrastructure (Muller, 2013).

On the other hand, in the case of displacement by disasters, individuals are forced to live together day by day and share restricted areas without knowing each other and with no freedom to choose their neighborhood, quality and typology of space, etc. Cultures that are forced to give up a landscape, then to move and create a home somewhere else, are likely to reinterpret old landscape values in different locations and remold the new landscape to reflect those values.

Landscape knowledge is transported and thus, new cultural landscapes are created. "Place" is an important aspect of human existence and an important source of security and identity. Places shape our memories and feelings; and in turn, people shape landscapes around them through their experiences and actions. One of the challenges in designing a temporary housing for refugees is dealing with the issue of multiple identities and multiple senses of belonging.

Cultural landscape, in contemporary times, is the assimilation of the ethnic, social, gender, economic, and local characteristics on a built environment manufactured by human beings. Therefore, in a globalized context, landscape creation has no connection with the socio-cultural actuality of the contemporary societies, and the existing ‘cultural landscape' is systematically neglected.

But the landscape is not simply the visible form of the land (Kenneth R. Olwig & Don Mitchell, 2007). Landscape is not purely a structural and spatial composition, but it also has an intangible element that mirrors the cultures that created it. It is precisely because landscape is a living, dynamic cultural asset that it is able to assimilate and integrate over time elements that mark key territorial changes. Landscape then can work as a ‘medi­ator' between people and the places where they live, highlighting the different aspects that influence this re­lationship. There is a need of landscape projects based on knowledge and rediscovery of values ​​to build sustainable processes of re-signification of territories and giving back dignity and identity to the city.

Thus landscape architecture must become the essential game changer in terms of not only reshaping the earth's ecological systems in practice but in transforming the fundamental habitation of the planet through broader systematic thinking (Shannon, 2016).


Sassen, S. Massive loss of habitat triggers new array of migrations. https://www.thrumanfactor.com, accessed July 2016

Muller, S., (2013). The Next Generation Of Infrastructure, [online text], Scenario 03: Rethinking Infrastructure, http://scenariojournal.com/article/the-next-generation-of-infrastructure/, accessed March 2016

Olwig, K. R.  & Don Mitchell, (2007). Justice, power and the political landscape: From American space to the European Landscape Convention, in Landscape Research, 2007:5


© 2014 Observatori del Paisatge
Hospici, 8 - 17800 OLOT
Tel: +34 972 27 35 64
facebook Twitter