The linkage between landscape and territory through perception, as proposed by the European Landscape Convention, creates a certain sense of annoyance in the people working on rural environments, no matter researchers, land planners, producers, managers or other related professionals. As a global society, we have assumed to be facing a fast-tracked process of urban concentration at a planetary scale. However, driven by the resounding logic of the first statement, we feel also as witnessing a bizarre process of disengagement, both sensible and affective, from our rural landscapes.
Boarding the Anthropocene era, such a syllogism exhibits a markedly self-contradictory character: we have adopted the path of disentangle ourselves from a reality increasingly influenced by our actions. Therefore, what we are really managing to show is mainly neglecting those landscapes. Consciously or unconsciously adopted, the growing apathy about the historical path of rural areas is currently affecting the provision of public and private goods, the generation of wealth, the provision of ecosystem services and the viability of new and old eco-social, productive and cultural initiatives.
Besides, rural land host basic ecosystem functions, whether natural or artificially modified: woods, grasslands, croplands or cities relies on rural land to keep going. We can undoubtedly affirm that around us, no matter if we deal with marshes or high mountains, all ecosystems got an intense human and social influence. Furthermore, it is significant that, currently most of these ecosystem functionalities rely on correct human intervention to be properly operational.
On the other side, interpreting or misinterpreting the current trends, it looks like the default option in the rural world implies a land planning model lacking vision and purpose: fragmented in its foundations, fragmented and uncoordinated in its implementation, and contributing to weakening the intricate network of flows and relationships underlying the delicate landscape metabolism. Even the most valuable territories, such as parks and protected areas, the land planning model uses to detach people decision making from “natural” trends, just as people weren’t part of nature. Awkward seeing our sloppiness supported by considering the human presence, our presence, as an outsider in those lands, our lands.
The political choice besides this avoidance, however, could be defined as not-management, if it weren’t an illogical and inefficient concept. Anyway, it is not about modulating or adapting human action to land capacity or to some valuable landscape characteristics but showing an arrogant attitude of laissez faire, lately mainstreaming among decision-makers. Leave the “nature” be and, eventually, problems will get solved by themselves. What it is really worrisome is that probably this not-management coarseness is hiding a different purpose, expediting a land management style that ease vertical decision-making while preventing any disturbance coming from local stakeholders. Accordingly, capacity of action is transferred to external agents whilst local populations are left behind to deal with the risks and consequences of those actions, suffering the outcomes of a global change process already affecting rural lands.
On the other hand, a growing number of scientific papers and technical initiatives on land planning and urbanism, remark the economic, social and ecological interest of implementing land planning and management models closer to land and people. This way, not only sustainability is better guaranteed in the rural areas, but also performance of cities gets improved. Rural lands satisfy cities’ demand of a great number of public and private goods, key in urban development: top quality food, dairy and fibres, culture, human relationships, tourism and leisure offers, and economic opportunities. Several urban planning initiatives are actually using this approach, incorporating rural lands as active elements generating valuables for the cities, instrumental for developing scenarios of sustainability.
Several guidelines to adopt this new approach are already in display, helping to redesign the role of people and communities in rural landscapes. Actually, these examples use land planning tools to activate and improving ecosystem services and benefits. Another path consists on restoring and boosting the positive effects of several productive activities over land, e.g. mobile pastoralism and extensive livestock farming, local food growing or forest activity. Nevertheless, primary production is not the only sector with positive sustainability outcomes, other such as IT, mobility, infrastructures, social entrepreneurism or arts can contribute to these goals, while contributing to keep the rural world alive. A third mechanism implies claiming back the role of local communities to manage land and resources, building capacity and establishing new participatory institutions. Those institutions could be in charge of dealing with conflicts through dialogue and negotiation, facilitating participation of all stakeholders in land and strategic planning, or generating social links and networks. Conscious and aware communities can make a difference toward biodiversity conservation, soil fertility preservation and landscape quality. Moreover, in direct link with the headlines of our issue, restoring balance and equity en the relationship between urban and rural areas. The boundary between cities and the countryside is a bubbling area that may generate valuable synergies, allocating a fertile ground for food, energy, mobility and sustainability policies that may drive a new model of relationships between both worlds. Urban and land planning are essential for this changes to happen, but it won’t happen if this complex, creative and evolving scenario is neglected.
This issue of Ciudades intends to show a selection of those approaches, proposals, lessons learned, successful experiences and innovations, built upon a collaborative, multi-disciplinary and multi-agent perspective, keeping the focus set on urban and land planning. The aim is to highlight the human factor behind the co-construction, development, sustainability and governance of rural environments.
Accordingly, this call for papers, regarding issue 24 of Ciudades, whose releasing is foreseen on May 2021, pursues initiatives and experiences linked to land planning, management, action and social participation in rural areas, adopting an active and dynamic approach focused on territory and governance. The monographic section of Ciudades 24 seeks, in and specific but non-exclusive way, for initiatives based on urban planning, co-collaboration, knowledge exchange, networking, social participation, new and updated institutions, and shared economies and social networks boosted by IT. As for their topics, a wide but not systematic list could include integration of production in landscape processes, heritage and cultural and natural capital preservation, sustainability, adaptation and risk mitigation linked to global and climate change, sustainable use of IT, rural mobility, proximity renewable energy production and distribution, sustainable tourism, integration between tourism and local production, and last but not least, the implementation of new relationship models between stakeholders in the rural areas, and between these and urban territories.