Perspectives for European recreational landscapes

Landscape Dimensions - Reflections and proposals for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Niek Hazendonk, Marlies Brinkhuijsen, Chantal de Jonge, Hugo de Jong, Dirk Sijmons, April 2017

This text is taken from the chapter on Landscape and Leisure in Europe and corresponds to the 8th point of the chapter. However, we thought it more appropriate to highlight its content. Indeed, this interesting projection into the future makes recommendations on how the relationship between landscape and leisure should be viewed in Europe, and presents a number of new guidelines for policy makers, land planners and landscape architects.

It is the first draft of a new vision for European leisure landscapes.

On 19 October 2007, the European Parliament adopted by a large majority the Agenda for a competitive and sustainable European tourism (19.10.2007, COM/2007/621 final), on new prospects and challenges for sustainable European tourism. This text, and later the Communication from the European Commission « Europe, the world’s leading tourist destination: a new policy framework for European tourism » (Brussels, 30 June 2010, COM(2010)352 final), marked a turning point in the way we think about tourism. The content of the Agenda is interesting. Its diagnosis of today’s tourism is incisive and includes many pertinent recommendations that show a deep understanding of the issue. The text shows that there is a broad consensus in the European Parliament on the urgency of making European tourism more sustainable. However, it is ambiguous to say the least when it calls for ensuring that the quest for sustainability does not jeopardise Europe’s place in the tourism market. Thus, while sustainability is essential, it should not be allowed to undermine the competitiveness of the industry. The crucial question is whether these two aspects can be reconciled. Climate change, high energy prices and the recent economic crisis will inevitably force the leisure industry to take a different path. Two diametrically opposed scenarios are possible. One is the continuation of globalisation and the increasing proliferation of leisure in society: this is the choice of growth. The other is that globalisation and the consequent growth of the leisure industry will provoke such a reaction that drastic changes to the world as we know it will be inevitable: this is the choice of sustainability.

Slow regions », the choice of slowness

The first imperative is to create sustainable cooperation and networks between all those involved in the landscape and the leisure sector. Cooperation between farmers for the conservation of the landscape is becoming more and more a reality at regional level. The best network model to date is the slow region approach adopted by Italy in Tuscany and Umbria, inspired by the slow food movement. The slow food movement was born out of a rejection of the fast food industry and its effects, namely the crowding out of regional products, the richness and diversity of local cuisine and traditional farming and breeding methods. The movement started with a small group of people and took shape in the late 1980s. It quickly grew into a horizontal network of farmers and breeders, retailers and customers. This network structure proved ideal for popularising the movement, as it allowed close control of the whole chain from producer to consumer. The slow food philosophy cannot be promoted without defending and rehabilitating the cultural landscape in which local food was born. Thus the movement has expanded to include the idea of slow region, the combined promotion of accessible countryside, agri-tourism, culinary specialities and the many aspects of local culture. The scale at which the movement is organised at the local level depends on the cultural unity of the region, which is itself very strongly influenced by the cultural landscape. Since the movement was launched in Tuscany, the number of participating farms in that region has increased by 165%, to about 20% of the total number of Tuscan farms. The movement has since spread around the world, gaining a strong presence in different parts of Europe. The slow region model is gaining ground in Germany, France, Switzerland and several Eastern European countries. The use of local products in hotels and restaurants can also make a significant contribution to safeguarding employment and supporting the regional economy, in harmony with the preservation of the historical landscapes shaped by agricultural practices. By reducing long-distance transport, it also contributes to reducing noise and exhaust emissions (Villanueva-Cuevas, 2011).

Regional stories and networks

The participation of local people is also essential for the success of sustainable tourism. It is desirable to involve local people already at the development stage of tourism concepts. In order to design a model for the region, for example, experts from the tourism industry, politicians and representatives of the local population interested in the subject can be brought together in a round table (Villanueva-Cuevas, 2011). In the Netherlands, tourism professionals cooperate with public authorities in the framework of public-private partnerships. They form a network focusing on innovation in leisure and landscape design. The STIRR Foundation facilitates this approach by supporting innovative projects and organising knowledge around ‘regional narrative’ projects. A ‘regional narrative’ is a story developed by the different actors in the leisure sector based on regional identities, which are recorded and selected for enhancement. A good example is the story about the delta dykes, which is a collaboration between twelve companies. It focuses on water control in the central part of Holland.

Another example is the recent development of the Hadrian’s Wall identity in the north of England. Here, the protection of cultural heritage goes hand in hand with the development of leisure activities (Berkers and Emonts, 2009). Governments should facilitate the development of ‘regional narratives’ by regional networks of entrepreneurs, administrations and inhabitants. A regional narrative links the unique identity of a region to development scenarios for that region. It mobilises entrepreneurs and associations to guide the development of the landscape in cooperation with the relevant administrations. Through cross-sectoral (and innovative) cooperation, the region can become a popular tourist destination and thus see its economy revived (Mommaas J. T., 2006; Berkers R., Emonts T. and Hillebrand H., 2011).

It seems that the future of European leisure and landscape policy lies in regional development based on this new type of cooperation. To encourage this, Europe could ensure that funding for rural areas is not only used for agriculture, but also for other activities, often in the field of health care and recreation. Conversely, tourism revenues, such as taxes linked to tourism activity, should not only go to leisure projects but also to agricultural projects that are important for tourism and leisure, as is the case with the eco-tax being tried out in the Balearic Islands. The difficulty of breaking existing models is well illustrated by the situation of the English countryside, a traditional example of a close relationship between leisure and landscape: the Countryside Commission regrets that in its thirty years of existence it has never really succeeded in ensuring that capital inflows also benefit farmers. The European Parliament has taken a step in the right direction by proposing in its aforementioned resolution, in the spirit of the « European Capital of Culture », to designate each year regions that would commit themselves to sustainable tourism, a commitment that would be accompanied by the enhancement of the landscape and cultural heritage. This proposal would be even more relevant if the regions concerned were required to have a coherent structure for cooperation between the landscape and leisure sectors. It would be possible to kill two birds with one stone, and the movement would quickly spread to neighbouring regions. The islands, in particular, lend themselves perfectly to experiments in sustainable tourism and landscape improvement. Those carried out in Mallorca and Menorca, in the Balearic Islands, are well known. The town of Calvià in Mallorca, for example, has put a lot of emphasis on nature protection. With a capacity of 60,000 beds and over 11 million overnight stays per year, Calvià was one of the first local authorities to adopt its own Agenda 21 programme, setting a binding model based on the principles of sustainable development. It works in close cooperation with residents, other local authorities and private companies. Not only has the city attracted attention by blasting twelve dilapidated hotels and buildings, but it has also applied to the Balearic government to have large areas and several islands recognised as nature reserves. This should put an end to the building frenzy of previous years. Calvià and the island of Mallorca in general are examples for other Mediterranean regions (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). The establishment of a European fund to finance such exemplary initiatives could further encourage this development. 8.3 « Slow movement » In line with the above overview and the possible solutions already mentioned, we call for special attention to be paid to the development of the landscape to make it accessible by appropriate means of transport. The promotion of rural tourism, as part of an overall strategy to preserve the great diversity of European landscapes, requires tailor-made solutions. The choice of slowness requires the use of soft modes of transport.

We must take care of the dense network of paths that Europe can still boast. We have already lost too many. In half a century of reparcelling, the Netherlands has seen the disappearance of some 50,000 kilometres of parish roads, small roads and paths. In Spain, countless paths that were once used for herding cattle have disappeared from the landscape - and we now regret this. It is essential that Eastern European states avoid the same mistakes of indiscriminately restructuring their landscapes and infrastructure to meet the demands of modernity.

These landscape ‘capillaries’ not only provide opportunities for recreation and tourism, but also provide an essential infrastructure for the development of a new rural economy by bringing consumers into direct contact with producers. The areas already lost will have to be restored kilometre by kilometre, which will cost a lot of money. However, investments already made for recreation can also support tourism. Measures to reduce the impact of traffic on the landscape could include a network of cycle and footpaths, and funding for public transport or greater use of new transport technologies (e.g. electric buses). Increased co-operation in local networks and joint promotion efforts will enable regions and tourist facilities to exploit the synergy potential already present (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). The ultimate aim is to create a dense network of walking and cycling routes and paths throughout Europe. A prestigious example is the Cultural Routes, which combine tourism in all its diversity with the promotion of European cultural identity.

The situation can also be improved for motorised tourists. Some countries have exemplary facilities, such as Norway, with its beautifully designed tourist routes. Others make no provision whatsoever for people wishing to park their caravans or motorhomes outside the designated areas, and in some countries this is simply not allowed. In our view, everyone in Europe should have the right to explore a region in a caravan or motorhome, unless expressly prohibited. In the 1990s, seven Swiss tourist regions founded the Gemeinschaft Autofreier Schweizer Tourismusorte (Association of Car-Free Swiss Tourist Places) to promote car-free areas. These areas are car-free and the presence of combustion engine vehicles is reduced to a minimum. These areas are established as havens of tranquillity, offering a multitude of sporting activities in an intact landscape rooted in a preserved local culture (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). The transition to more sustainable forms of tourism also requires a new look at air traffic, at least for short distances. The European tourism offer should be as free as possible from air infrastructure. The high-speed train is a good alternative here. This is why the completion of the high-speed rail network is also a priority from the point of view of tourism: the construction of new high-speed rail lines serving important tourist regions would be a sensible initiative. The revival of sleeper trains in Germany would be an example to follow.

Reconciling different rates of development However, the focus should not only be on rural areas and « slow regions ». Over the past five years, partly as a result of rising grain prices and the demand for biofuels, intensive farming and livestock production have expanded rapidly. It is therefore important to prevent otium and negotium from conflicting with each other. Large-scale farming can easily come into conflict with a regional economy where not only recreation, but also housing, tourism, health care, forestry, drinking water supply and nature conservation (among others) depend directly or indirectly on the quality and diversity of the landscape. The task is therefore to provide a sustainable future for both facets of the rural economy. This can be done either by separating them geographically or by configuring the new production areas in a way that is also suitable for recreation. We are not saying that developments should be obsessed with quality - but that they should be oriented in that direction. Both industrial and Disney-like landscapes should be avoided! The key word in landscape planning is « authenticity ». This requires regulation at different levels. At the European level, it is essential to carefully weigh up the possible undesirable effects of agricultural support (first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy) on the recreational potential of the new Member States. Lessons must be learned from the mistakes made after the first enlargement. EU aid was used to develop wilderness areas (such as the peat bogs in Ireland) and to restructure cultural landscapes (such as the finely fragmented landscape of northern Portugal) without realising that tourism would have brought greater benefits. At Member State level, land-use and landscape policies should provide for different conservation and planning strategies for areas where the emphasis is on the regional economy and those where commercial considerations are paramount. New Member States, such as Poland or Hungary, still have valuable cultural landscapes rich in natural features. In order to prevent the destruction of this natural capital (which is also a leisure capital), it is essential to reflect upstream on how our societies want to treat this heritage. Some quite exceptional landscapes have been sacrificed on the altar of progress when it was no longer necessary. If they had not been « modernised », some of them would be worth a fortune today. An even more refined policy is needed where both types of development must be pursued. Careful spatial planning is needed to connect or delimit the two components, to create an illusion by re-staging the landscape, to build a framework in which nature, recreation, forestry and water supply are preserved independently of the economic development of agriculture or are given time to develop, or to plan new developments in such a way that they enhance the charm of the landscape - or do not harm it.

Town and country

Despite the sometimes very significant socio-cultural differences, there is a strong emotional bond between European cities and the surrounding countryside. This potential should be exploited. The immediate surroundings of cities, where people go for walks or Sunday outings, are a familiar landscape to the 225 million Europeans who live in urban areas. Europe should move towards preserving, restoring or creating links between cities and their landscapes. From the point of view of the welfare economy, these investments are profitable. They also have the effect of anchoring certain landscapes in the minds of their visitors, thus increasing the chances that these landscapes will be properly managed - or even survive. Furthermore, these investments originally intended for recreation also open the door to tourism. A well-connected city with good surroundings generates a large tourist market: for example, the link between Strasbourg and the Vosges, Amsterdam and its wetlands, London and its green belt. Each Member State or urban region should determine the most effective ways of preserving and developing its urban landscapes, which is not self-evident given the high price of land in urban areas. A financing method must be found that can support the urban-rural association, a form of income transfer between the two. Individual solutions, defined according to the administrative and material context, will ensure the proper use of these management tools in landscape planning.

For second homes and holiday homes further away from the cities, but which can still be considered as a form of urbanisation, new ways of making ‘neo-rural’ people responsible for their environment will have to be found. The settlement (and internationalisation!) of the European countryside, if directed to be a positive force in shaping the landscape, could have a tremendous effect. Organisations such as landowners’ associations can take on a share of the maintenance of the landscape where the modernisation of agriculture has made certain elements of the landscape redundant for agricultural production. If the cost of energy increases to the extent that it disrupts our mobility patterns, this will have consequences for the holiday home market in Europe. In the long run, these consequences may not be as dire as we fear. The trend will be towards fewer, but longer stays. These « private paradises » will continue and will even lead some people to alternate between two places to live, a choice made easier by the internet connection.

Landscapes and mass tourism

Mass tourism, the most lucrative aspect of the leisure sector in Europe, is currently under multiple pressures. Geographically and temporally, it is characterised by discovery, development and then abandonment in rapid succession. For this form of tourism, the setting of the sea and the landscape is important, but low prices, accessibility (by plane) and guaranteed sunshine also play a role. Some places have been densely developed and still represent an important tourist offer, but they are often hastily built, unkempt and soulless developments. It is these places that are now experiencing difficulties in the highly competitive ‘party holiday’ market: increasingly low-priced packages have made more attractive and cheaper destinations available to many tourists. The existing tourist infrastructure has become « too expensive for what it is » and is suffering an increasingly unfortunate fate. In the regions concerned, there is an urgent need, with the support of European regional funds, to develop an effective strategy for the conversion and dismantling of developments that have gone too far. In a post-festive holiday era, the question is how such places will position themselves in a market that is primarily intra-European. Intuition tells us that the last decades of the festive holiday should be devoted above all to a reorientation towards sustainable quality. Without competing with theme hotels in Morocco or Turkey or seeking to go further and further afield, as in Aragon (Spain), where a European mix of Orlando and Las Vegas is expected to rise in the middle of nowhere, it could be taken into account that southern Europe (in particular) will be well placed to accommodate an ageing European population. This development could also offset the devastating effects of seasonal change in the locations concerned. In other words, the beautiful southern coasts of our continent could become the Florida of Europe. Elsewhere, a different and more diversified urban development could be imagined. The French Mediterranean coast, a ribbon of uninterrupted urbanisation with millions of inhabitants, is a good example. New developments should aim to link these « tourist monocultures » with the landscapes of their hinterland as a priority.

Of course, the qualitative improvement of the most degraded coastal areas has its limits, but a minimum of quality and picturesqueness must be assured. Not all seaside resorts have aged as well as Menton, a true tourist monument whose past glory and splendour are still palpable. In the long term, seaside residences too dilapidated to be of use could be brought back to life through a cultural redesign similar to the rehabilitation of the industrial site of Emscher Park in the Ruhr. The proposals of the José Segui architectural studio for the Andalusian coast, as part of the development of the Costa del Sol, give some examples of how these areas could find a second life by becoming urban areas open to new forms of leisure, through paratourism, the permanent settlement of former visitors and the concentration on the provision of high quality services.


The Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the promotion of tourism geared to the enhancement of cultural heritage in the context of sustainable development (Recommendation Rec(2003)1) puts it this way: « Tourism is a means of access to culture and nature. It should be an opportunity for self-education, the development of mutual tolerance, familiarisation with other cultures and peoples and appreciation of their diversity, as well as for pleasure, rest and relaxation. Cultural tourism offers the opportunity to get to know other cultures through direct encounter with their heritage. On this continent, cultural heritage tourism can help to shape European identity and foster awareness of and respect for the cultures of other peoples.

Member States that have ratified the European Landscape Convention should

Thus, much of the initiative lies with local or regional authorities, as they are primarily responsible for planning policies, landscape quality and recreational opportunities.

To encourage recreation through quality landscapes, all public authorities and stakeholders should

Finally, this transition and new impetus must draw on the large pool of planning and landscape talent and knowledge that Europe has to offer. To achieve this, the leisure sector and the planning industry will benefit greatly from building on each other. Member States and their regions can create and maintain these contacts through their architectural and/or spatial planning policies. It would be commendable if in each Member State a sufficient percentage of leisure investments were set aside to link spatial and artistic developments with new tourist/leisure facilities. If thousands of individual projects are properly implemented, an improvement in quality and a real shift towards sustainability can be achieved in all areas in the long term. For the future of recreational landscapes, it is better to do ordinary things very well than to rely on a handful of exceptional developments. Landscape designers should aim to add 21st century leisure landscapes, designed to last, to the series of leisure developments with which they have enriched the European landscape in the past.

To go further