Economic dimension of landscape: the hyphens

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

Joaquín Romano, April 2017

This study, carried out by Joaquín Romano, expert to the Council of Europe, examines the links between landscape, as conceived by the European Landscape Convention, and the main objectives of the economy: social welfare, job creation, availability of public goods and public structures, in order to get closer to the real concerns of European societies and to make progress in the knowledge of the risks caused by the disconnection between economy and landscape, as well as the opportunities generated by their union.

Landscape and economy are becoming more and more important and have close links in the complex process of cultural construction that determines and is simultaneously determined by human behaviour. Understanding the complexity of these processes is the starting point for the analysis of the economic dimension of landscape. The knowledge of the relationship between economy and landscape depends on the interpretation of the complexity approach, i.e. on the chosen adapted methodology. Two types of currents will be differentiated: on the one hand, those that approach complexity with the intention of solving it through the simplification of the cultural system, the decomposition, fragmentation and dispersion of its parts, carrying out a specialised and independent study of each of its parts, the so-called « disciplinary approach », close to the interdisciplinary current, which gathers a set of works concerning several disciplines. The aim of this approach is an objective and in-depth knowledge of each aspect of reality. On the other hand, there are currents3 that seek to understand this complexity through the « fusion between unity and multiplicity », known as the « transdisciplinary approach », which accepts and builds on this complexity. The objective of this approach is meaningful knowledge.

Meaningful knowledge is not guided by facts but by scenarios; it is both relational and emotional. It seeks to grasp a reality that is both unique and multiple. This means that in economics and landscape each decision is based on a relationship, an interconnection with a multitude of issues that this decision implies in global and local aspects, giving meaning and logic to the processes, through tradition, acquired knowledge, experience, real or everyday situations, creativity and social dialogue. This methodological distinction is crucial. First of all, to deal with the divergence of results that can appear in the economic analysis of the landscape, but above all for the possibilities it offers to encourage public participation, thanks to the level of debate it generates. Collective knowledge processes are thus established, limited in some cases by disciplinarity and on the contrary opened by transdisciplinarity, in the apprehension of real problems. By applying a transdisciplinary approach, the analysis of the economic dimension of landscape will give a very different result than if the landscape dimension of economics was analysed according to the disciplines considered separately, because the orthodox theories of economics on the one hand, and the academic theories of landscape on the other hand, differ substantially in their research objects and methodologies. One of the effects of specialisation is that it makes it difficult to discuss topics that go beyond the disciplines under consideration. This reductionism represents a serious limitation to the knowledge of reality and its issues, despite the notable academic results in each of these disciplines. Some authors have identified this social syndrome as the Tower of Babel, where conflicts have important effects on the understanding of landscape construction processes. Adopting the alternative transdisciplinary point of view facilitates this simultaneous rapprochement between landscape and economy, which implies a recognition of complexity, without implying the possibility or the intention to solve it. This introduces the holistic analysis, which insists on the importance of considering the whole as a whole, to which economy and landscape contribute by creating the synergies of their interdependence. The introduction of the landscape approach in economics seeks the synthesis that makes possible the exchange and respect of different ideas, beliefs or ways of being, whether individual or collective, and is opposed to any reductive analysis of reality, which limits the field of study by concentrating on the material part of it, leading to indoctrination and one-track thinking.

The European Landscape Convention recognises the adoption of a transdisciplinary approach, which is reflected in its definition of landscape: « Landscape means a part of a territory as perceived by people, the character of which results from the action of natural and/or human factors and their interrelationships ». This approach also underlies the Convention’s notion of landscape management, which « includes actions aimed, from a sustainable development perspective, at maintaining the landscape in order to guide and harmonise the transformations brought about by social, economic and environmental changes ». The Convention puts into practice the transdisciplinary recognition of the concept of landscape as set out in Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on guidelines for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention: « The concept of landscape as set out in the Convention is different from that which may be formulated in certain documents which assimilate landscape to a ‘good’ (heritage concept of landscape) and qualify it (cultural, natural landscape, etc.) by considering it as a part of the physical space. This new concept expresses, on the contrary, the will to tackle in a global and frontal way the issue of the quality of the places where people live, recognised as an essential condition for individual and social well-being (understood in the physical, physiological, psychological and intellectual senses), for sustainable development and as a resource favouring economic activities. The Convention as conceived and developed offers not only the goal, but also the opportunity to create a community of interest that provides a common vision for the management of this reality that we share as citizens, which is both economic, social and ecological, unique and diverse in time and space, shaping all those desires, perceptions and needs that contribute to collectively building a « better world ».

The objectives that respond to this universal desire are proving to be major challenges, despite the undeniable advances in European society over the last half century. Changes in lifestyles have brought with them new and increasing risks, as well as social, ecological and economic threats, reaching levels never before seen in history. We currently live a comfortable life in Europe, but until when? All European states have recognised these risks, and their increasing materialisation in environmental and cultural damage, sometimes irreversible. They also recognise the need for a policy shift towards sustainable development, and have developed various national and collective strategies in this respect. These sustainable development policies and strategies offer very important results, especially in the integration of public interventions. But many of them are limited by the resistance of different interest groups, especially economic ones, many of which exercise power at the global level, but always with a short-term perspective. This makes it difficult to develop an institutional framework for adequate diagnosis and treatment of the problems, which has the effect of increasingly calling into question the quality of life and the sustainability of growth in the medium and long term.

The globalisation of economic power and the resulting social changes are contributing to an increase in mistrust of parties and politicians, although the majority of citizens support democratic institutions and values. Landscape reflects this conflict between what is and what should be, which alienates representatives from those they represent, and threatens some of the most remarkable social constructions of the past century, without the social sciences offering an effective response. The transdisciplinary notion of landscape offered by the Convention represents a bridge that unites disciplines, especially those, such as economics, that play a key role in the processes of both development and social and ecological degradation. A bridge that, on the one hand, facilitates communication and the establishment of links capable of rediscovering relationships, encourages the sharing of knowledge and develops social networks, which are essential for strengthening democracy. A bridge that, on the other hand, allows to face the divergences between landscape and economic experts. These differences have contributed to an extraordinary disciplinary development, but also to a dangerous scientific autonomy of these fields of knowledge in European culture, « proper to the Western world of the last two centuries », but whose theories, when they have had the opportunity to be put into practice, have often aggravated the situations, because of this lack of an integrated vision of reality. European society, which historically has driven global cultural and academic progress in a possibilistic direction, i.e. exploring and taking advantage of the best available opportunities and resources in order to achieve collective results, has perhaps converted, at the beginning of the 21st century, to economic determinism, in which man’s actions, his way of thinking and everything that happens in his environment are permanently determined by an economic cause and consequence, assumed to be optimal, which will necessarily affect social possibilities in the future.

The European Landscape Convention, in its preamble, underlines the existing relationship between landscape and economic activity, as well as social well-being. The latter is widely accepted as a general idea, but in practice authorities and economic agents show a lack of knowledge and concern for its application. National or EU economic policies continue to focus on the objective of economic growth. One could even add at any cost, when one observes, in the current situation of instability and European economic crisis, the loss of interest in questions of sustainability of development, which is different from growth, whereas without sustainability of development any way out of the crisis can be questioned. Furthermore, the Convention calls for « the integration of landscape into land-use and urban planning policies and into cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies, as well as into other policies that may have a direct or indirect effect on landscape ». The key to making this integration of landscape into policies effective lies in developing the transdisciplinary approach proposed by the Convention, establishing the framework for connecting to reality, facilitating a participatory analysis of its problems and opportunities, and recognising the right of citizens to intervene. This right is fundamental to the development of alternatives and decision-making processes capable of recognising and confronting the other great conflict associated with these processes, which opposes the individual interest to the collective interest in the understanding of the notion of wealth, as it emerges from the economic meaning9. The economic reflection of the Convention offers economics the opportunity to overcome the determinism to which orthodox economic theory is subjected, linked to the analysis of individual motives, reduced to the principles, causes or forces that operate in markets, which are isolated from the natural or physical environment, as well as from complex and delicate processes of social construction. With landscape, economics finds the possibility to connect and enrich itself through the encounter with other sciences, but above all to go beyond the discipline and theoretical debates to serve in practice the objectives of sustainable development and social welfare, as well as to the configuration of an institutional framework based on strong shared values, embodying democracy.


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