Active rural environments: innovative patterns of land planning, administration, participation and governance
Ciudades 24, 2021
Ana RUIZ-VARONA, Ignacio GALÁN-FERNÁNDEZ & Yves SCHOONJANS
El papel de la infraestructura en la reactivación de espacios deshabitados del Pirineo aragonés: el entorno de Sobrepuerto
Rocío PÉREZ-CAMPAÑA, Rubén TALAVERA-GARCÍA & Luigi LA RICCIA
Centralidad espacial en redes de caminos: una reflexión sobre posibles aportaciones al análisis, planificación y gestión del paisaje rural
Pedro María HERRERA CALVO & Javier GARCÍA FERNÁNDEZ
Iniciativas de diálogo, participación e innovación social para mejorar la gobernanza territorial en el medio rural
Hacia los territorios inteligentes frente a incendios forestales
Agritourism and slow lines: hybrid practices for a landscape design model to support agriculture in mountain regions. Vermont as read from an Italian perspective
How to access land for producing organic food? Land policy options grounded in Torres Vedras, Portugal
Eduardo DE SANTIAGO RODRÍGUEZ & Isabel GONZÁLEZ GARCÍA
Problemas morfológicos característicos de los pequeños municipios rurales: su difícil encaje en el marco del urbanismo convencional
Gloria RIVERO-LAMELA & Amadeo RAMOS-CARRANZA
Antiguas arquitecturas productivas en la activación de entornos rurales. Los molinos hidráulicos de la Sierra de Cádiz
Elizabeth OTHON DE SOUZA & Maria de Lourdes ZUQUIM
As lutas pela terra, trabalho e cultura no Quilombo do Mutuca – Mato Grosso, Brasil
Rebeca MERINO DEL RÍO
Del paisaje cultural al patrimonio territorial, y viceversa: una conversión necesaria para un proyecto de paisaje desde el patrimonio
Rafael CÓRDOBA HERNÁNDEZ, Isabel GONZÁLEZ GARCÍA & Gerardo GUERRERO PERIÑÁN
Observatorios Europeos de Vulnerabilidad y Pobreza urbana. Características y transferibilidad
De urbanización ilegal de fin de semana a barrio precario: las parcelaciones ilegales en Córdoba
Edwar Leonardo SALAMANCA OSPINA
Reseña: Formas de sociabilidad. Una geografía de los espacios públicos en Río de Janeiro
Enrique RODRIGO GONZÁLEZ
Reseña: SIG Revolution. Ordenación del territorio, urbanismo y paisaje
It was over a year ago, when strange things were starting to happen, we decided to address the situation of the rural environment as the monographic topic of this issue 24. The journal is called Ciudades, that is “cities”, but there is no city without the villages, just as there is no delta without a river and no dune without wind. As we are all part of the same civilisation, addressing the city without thinking of the countryside is like lifting weights in the gym but eating fast food: a sure recipe for disaster. Actually, the reality in which we are immersed.
The monographic topic of this issue is “Active rural environments: innovative models of planning, management, participation and territorial governance”. This title seems to offer some concerns and seeds for new ideas. However, in a world in which communication is restricted to key messages, shocking images and viral videos, we are assailed by gravestone sentences (the rural world is dying, the planet is heading towards destruction, natural resources are running out…), some of which become mantras, comparing the fate of people with that of the large systems that host them. Anyway, the planet, which was already here 3.5 billion years before any ape ever poked a stick into a termite mound full of treats, will still be here for millions of years after our passing. And natural resources do not run out. They are transformed into other resources, which, unfortunately (and by choice), include certain toxic substances that endanger our very existence. What is depleted is our capacity to move forward and to cope with the consequences. Accordingly, the danger is no longer hanging over the rural world, but over (rural) people, over our quality of life, over our future. On many occasions, we, armed with a symbolic vision, feel compelled to mobilise in order to defend these unaffordable areas, which are vast and indifferent to our concerns. In the process, we abandon our practical approach, apparently destined for the domestic, and waste our energy dealing with forces beyond our reach. Instead, we neglect our more reliable tools, which only demand our focus on the needs of our own community.
In fact, the rural world is not dying out. It is simply changing towards something able of assimilate the conscious and unconscious decision-making drift. And this change is going to happen whether we are ready for it or not. What is worrying is not so much the anguish of a rural world, which is different from yesterday’s and irretrievable for tomorrow, but rural after all. What is alarming is that society left the collective control of this change in oblivion, just as the people living there, committed to its care. The process of transformation has alienated the will and capacity for action of its inhabitants, and the result points to serious losses in human, economic and environmental terms. Nevertheless, as deep as the urbanisation process could be, still the global urban society will need the services and goods provided by the rural environment. On the meantime, a weakened rural environment will not only provide weak services, but will have lost a vital part of their identity.
On the other hand, our own responsiveness, or rather lack of it, is the defining feature of this unprecedented crisis. The passivity with which we face this situation is discouraging, even when compared to other aspects of global change, such as climate or environmental degradation. These problems, at least, generate options for the future, develop clear international frameworks and defined objectives. Better or worse, hundreds of such sustainability initiatives have been launched in recent years. Strangely enough, many of them are also contributing to the drift of rural areas: services are concentrated under optimisation frameworks, renewable energies occupy ever larger and more valuable spaces with a very low return for their inhabitants, nature conservation itself is often used as an excuse to grab land and constrain its inhabitants, and, in general, decision-making is increasingly top-down, to avoid annoying local interference.
Meanwhile, the urban society behaves as if rural problems were alien and not well-being threatening. Inertia has become one of the main driving forces of the territories. This is undoubtedly a clear symptom of the imbalance with which we socially approach both the everyday and the extraordinary aspects of our link with our territory. Despite there is enough knowledge and experience to proactively address these problems, we are constrained by an extraction-based economic model, which is not very receptive to the subtleties of territory-based production systems. Many proposals are deterred or discarded, without their true potential even realised. We do not have a clear strategy for rural territories, and the current approach to fight against depopulation appears to lack ambition and coherence. Fragmentation, lack of coordination and sectionalism contribute to weakening the territories’ own metabolism. If inertia is the dominant force, the lack of a political framework and a laissez-faire attitude complicate the situation and leave the way open for top-down models of governance.
Fortunately, there are alternative proposals that address this problem from an approach much closer to the territory and its inhabitants. Initiatives that set people back on the centre, relying on their capacity for action and transformation. Also, new interpretations of the democratic play that bring territorial governance closer to the reality of its inhabitants. Moreover, collaborative entrepreneurship and socially based proposals seek to share art, experiences or care with, and from, rural people.
At territory level, the challenge consists of expanding the work scale, organising and systematising these initiatives to be included on land planning and management tools, while governance to the legitimate needs and aspirations of rural communities. This is a very difficult challenge to address from the current institutional framework.
The guidelines to promote this change of perspective are already clear. They involve redrawing the role of people and communities in their relationship with rural environments. This is achieved, for instance, using spatial tools to promote ecosystem-based goods and services. The goal is restoring, updating and improving the positive role played by various productive activities, for example, extensive livestock farming, local market gardening or forestry. It is also about promoting people’s well-being and quality of life by addressing their specific needs, e.g. IT, mobility, infrastructures, social entrepreneurship or artistic expression, which can also contribute to keeping these territories alive. A third issue would consist of reclaiming the role of local populations in land and resources management by 1) promoting new participatory institutions, 2) facing conflicts through dialogue and negotiation, 3) facilitating the involvement of the various social actors in strategic and territorial planning and management, 4) generating social fabric and 5) building conscious and active communities in the conservation of biodiversity, soil fertility and the quality of the territories. Additionally, and linked to our journal headlines, restoring balance and equity in the relationship with urban spaces. Urban and territorial planning has a decisive role to play here, which cannot be neglected from this actively evolving scenario.
Finally, the role of research in this process, a fundamental one, which, equally, has to be adapted to non-mainstreaming reality. In the last few years there has been a change of perspective, with deep implications for knowledge generation. Multi-stakeholder collaboration and platforms, co-construction on knowledge and many other active and participatory approaches have emerged. A growing number of scientific and technical papers, coming from different fields of knowledge, highlight the ecological, social and economic importance of adopting planning and management models much closer to the territory and its people, based on collaboration, listening and trans-disciplinarity.
These initiatives were on the contents spotlight for this issue of Ciudades. However, the aim was to challenge reactive positions. Many people engaged with the rural world (local communities, governments, scientific teams and activists) have been struggling for years, sometimes almost desperately, to confront, on a row, the emerging problems afflicting the countryside. With little success, actually. Because something as useful as reacting to a problem becomes a flight forward when the problems are linked, aggravated by and interfering with each other. This way, our own reaction, tied to the problems chain, behaves like another chain link and prevents us from getting to the root. Conversely, we were looking for counterflow proposals, aiming to anticipate the problems through creative, collective and effective ideas. Not so much to put a band-aid over the presumed new blow that is already looming over one village or another, but to take care of each tree born in fragile soil offering a little relief as it grows.
Sometimes the innovative proposal consists of maintaining traditional ways of life, for example, those based on common land use and collective labour relationships. Elizabeth Othon de Souza and Lourdes Zuquim in their article on the Quilombo de Mutuca in Brazil explain how resistance to violence, occupation and insecurity turns out to be the only social action proficient on halting deterioration and loss. In other cases, this resistance takes more constant forms, for example, in the face of less violent but very heavy institutional bureaucratic sluggishness. Fernando Pulido comments in his paper on smart territories and wildfires how, when facing the dilemma between proactivity and reactivity or prevention and extinction, decision makers systematically opt for the latter, condemned in advance to be an insignificant patch on any solution to the problem. Meanwhile, active smart-territories proposals are drained by a dense bureaucracy showing lack of perspective whether not sheer incompetence. All considered, projects such as the one described in this paper, are moving forward and delivering guidance for new proposals.
The work of the Entretantos Foundation analysed in the article by Pedro Herrera and Javier García points to territorial governance and the organisation of participatory and multi-stakeholder processes. The paper addresses some of the most pressing problems in rural areas, dealing with them by reactivating the commitment of producers and other inhabitants. The focus is set on dealing with troubled situations or with production sustainability. Indeed, the effectiveness of such processes depends on practical factors, such as the allocation of adequate resources and time frames. Nonetheless, they highlight the need for good policies, boosting a primary production model that is compatible with land sustainability.
Agroecological production, solidly based on technical, scientific and political foundations, is a sound alternative, specifically for mountainous and marginal areas. Catherine Dezio’s contribution shows us different ways of building useful knowledge. This knowledge aims 1) to improve production, 2) to promote exchanges between communities, including across borders, and 3) to enhancing technical support and advisory services. The recipe, once again, includes integrative and multidisciplinary approaches, a broadly agreed strategy and good working guidelines to diversify options, e.g. by enhancing synergies between agriculture and tourism. Cecilia Delgado’s article complements this vision, focusing on a specific aspect: the need to facilitate better land access and governance. Land access is key for the success of these initiatives, while both policies and local authorities play a key role in this regard.
The other chapters of the monographic section on active rural territories focus on more practical issues, such as the role of infrastructures, mobility and information, and communication technologies displayed on the article by Ana Ruiz-Varona, Ignacio Galán and Yves Schoonjans. They also analyse the relationship between infrastructures and the reactivation and use of uninhabited areas. Rocío Pérez, Rubén Talavera-García and Luigi La Riccia develop an innovative approach to rural roads, analysing their centrality and the importance this can have for key decisions, from the location of services to the layout of new tourist infrastructures. Eduardo de Santiago and Isabel González García focus on the morphological dimension of building, proposing the need for urban planning tools adapted to the reality and dynamics of villages. Besides, they advocate for land planning models that are coherent with traditional morphologies and avoid simplistic regulations. Finally, Gloria Rivero and Amadeo Ramos take a typical element of the rural landscape of the Sierra de Cádiz, the mills, and analyse their role in the structure and management of the entire region, revealing some of the intricacies of territorial governance.
Beyond the subject raised in the monographic section, this issue 24 of Ciudades is completed with a series of articles in the miscellaneous section that follow the journal’s research and editorial line on territory, landscape and the city. Rebeca Merino’s article on cultural landscape and territorial heritage can complement the more heritage-related aspects of the monographic section, in its territorial perspective. Nonetheless, the article by Rafael Córdoba, Gerardo Guerrero and Isabel González focuses on much more urban aspects of social interest, vulnerability and urban poverty. Finally, the article by David López-Casado deals with illegal plots of land that maintain a certain precariousness and are not legalised.
Harmony-delivered, but with creative tension, the most rural issue of the journal Ciudades has tried to contribute, from research and practice, to this necessary refocusing of rural action. We had to drop out very interesting topics such as the demographic challenge, the innovative entrepreneurship vision, the role of the commons, the cooperative approach or the emerging rural artistic expression have been overlooked, leaving the door open to continue working on these topics on future issues. In return, the spectrum shown in the monographic section allows us to approach to a reality of rural research that enthusiastically assumes the heavy burden of implementing a change of perspective.
Valladolid, May 2021
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