Acting as a national inter- and transdisciplinary network, the forum promotes knowledge and discourse about landscape and landscape-changing processes. It advocates sustainable design, development and safety concepts. The forum focuses on the Alps as well as parks and protected areas.more

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Landscape Culture

Kernthema FoLAP: Landschaftskultur
Image: Hansjakob Fehr, 1kilo

Why does hardly any discourse focus on the fact that protecting, using and developing landscapes requires an advanced culture of social interaction with landscape? This culture has to be negotiated between experts on the one hand, and political circles and various sectors of the public on the other. Landscape Culture integrates demographic and socio-cultural developments as well as trends in nutrition and agriculture.

Urban and landscape planners often refer to the cultural heritage that should be cared for, not least because the population identifies with it. In specialist circles, meanwhile, an understanding of landscape has become established that distances itself from the primary intention of preserving traditional elements, and is also open to change and innovation.

Both the European Landscape Convention (ELC) and the Swiss Landscape Concept (SLC), which has been updated by the Federal Council, are committed to a dynamic landscape concept based on the interplay between the perception of the landscape and its development. The 'Baukultur' strategy pursued by the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) aims to move ahead in the same direction.

According to this view, landscape is not determined by the opposition of nature and culture; on the contrary, it is integrated into an interwoven network of spatial, economic and social relationships. This has multiple dynamic effects on landscape design and development. Going forward, therefore, the protection, use and design of the landscape will have to be placed in a more cultural context, in terms of both landscape research and landscape-related policy and its implementation.

To do justice to the varied perceptions of the landscape and the different demands placed on it, FoLAP aims to initiate a social debate on Landscape Culture in the sense of 'doing landscape': this is intended to build a new bridge between experts in landscape research, planning and development on the one hand, and political decision-makers and authorities as well as the general public on the other.

The aim is to develop a single landscape policy that is able to accommodate the diverse needs and competencies of the social players. A landscape policy of this sort, embracing as many perspectives as possible, offers the best conditions for people to identify with their everyday landscape.

The debate on Landscape Culture raises fundamental questions as well as those of a methodological-instrumental nature. The latter relate (for example) to the methods required in public dealings with landscape – especially when the aim is to mediate when faced with diverse positions and claims and thereby to defuse the contradictions that are often declared to be 'conflicts of use'.

At the fundamental level, one of FoLAP's aims is to encourage the development of landscape-related ethics. One example of this would be to explore how regions, cities, or society in general negotiate their ideas of beautiful and valuable landscapes. It would also be enlightening to investigate which aspects are the focal points of ethical landscape debates on the environment, sustainability, nutrition or biodiversity, and when these focal points are adopted.

Finally, it would also be important to know what fundamental knowledge is needed about the differences in the perception of the landscape that have developed historically – and also due to people's diverse living conditions – so that the way this aspect is treated in practice could be improved.

The Framework Convention of the Council of Europe on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (the Faro Convention), ratified by Switzerland in 2018, does indeed focus on people and their values as the central issue, but gives a very broad definition of 'culture'. As regards the Convention's environmental impact, the Federal Council states that its objectives coincide with those of Swiss landscape policy because both rely on integrated instruments, coordinated procedures, and democratic participation in the maintenance and design of the space.

The third Swiss Landscape Congress on 8–9 September 2022 focused on Landscape Culture; representatives from practice and politics, research and teaching were invited to discuss the challenges that must be overcome in 'doing landscape' sustainably.

Hence, the sharpened focus on Landscape Culture should also help to improve cooperation between those responsible and involved at various levels in the context of 'doing landscape'.

Authors: Bernhard Tschofen (UZH), Peter Wullschleger (BSLA/FSAP), Marcel Hunziker (WSL), Matthias Stremlow (BAFU), Urs Steiger (steiger texte konzepte beratung), Roger Wehrli (economiesuisse)


Notes: In its five core topics (Landscape and Health, Landscape Culture, Lifestyles and Landscape, Climate Protection and Landscape, and Spatial Relationships), FoLAP has identified aspects where action is most needed in terms of sustainable landscape development. To promote political discourse and the social transformation process, there is a need not only to pool existing knowledge but also to invest more extensive effort in additional research and to step up the dialogue between research and practice. FoLAP understands the core topics as its own mission, and a mission for its community: they therefore appear on FoLAP's agenda as an invitation to institutions and players to become actively involved in these topic areas.

Political and economic relevance and topicality of the subject

The social relevance – and hence also the political and economic relevance – of the core topic of 'Landscape Culture' arises from the explanatory approach which the concept offers, and from the possibility of improving the development of processes going forward in line with the strategic objectives of the Swiss Landscape Concept – i.e. on a more inclusive and sustainable basis. To be specific: 'doing landscape' raises awareness about the cultural contextualisation of different ideas and practices and, as a method, it can improve cooperation between different actors – not least at the level of governance. This is becoming all the more important given that growing diversity due to demographic change and (internal) migration is accompanied by heterogeneous (and sometimes simultaneous or opposing) developments and positions in relation to landscape, thereby removing actors' ties to specific spaces. Moreover, this core topic is in keeping with the broad understanding of the Faro Convention ratified by Switzerland in 2018, which interprets 'cultural heritage' as all dimensions of human-environment relationships and their interactions, and commits to a fundamental right of co-determination in the processes of defining, developing and valorising cultural heritage.
A direct impact could be claimed for the fairer design of political and administrative procedures. The economic relevance is mainly to be found in the mobilisation of landscape as a social resource with effects that can often not be monetised but can nevertheless be sustainably valorised. It is necessary to ask the question about the concrete added social and economic value of a landscape that is openly 'developed' on a democratic basis – as opposed to one which is merely 'administered' – and methods of measuring and communicating this added value must be sought.

Relevant key questions

The questions linked to the problem sketched above relate both to basic knowledge and to the development of instruments for the public approach to landscape. Given the closely intermeshed network of culturally situated, multiple and competing designs for landscape among various actors, and in view of the current political and planning challenges, there is a particular need to address questions of knowledge transfer and application orientation. The focus is on the question of how science, practice and, above all, a wider public can be sensitised to topics relating to Landscape Culture. Not least, therefore, the aim is to create a common framework in which the academic knowledge largely gained and goals already formulated in NRP 48 can be developed further, across multiple fields, into a shared understanding of Landscape Culture, so that opportunities for action can be identified.

What fundamental knowledge do we need about differences regarding the perception, appreciation, use and design of landscapes that have evolved historically and are due to differences in living conditions? How, for example, is it possible to understand differences in concepts that are dominant at regional and sectoral level, and the multiplicity of opinions resulting from growing social diversity, and to integrate these aspects into improved practice?

How does society (add: regions, cities, etc.) negotiate its ideas of 'beautiful' and valuable landscapes? What cyclical fluctuations are evident in the ethical debates about the environment, sustainability, nutrition or biodiversity? In which social spaces do landscape ethics circulate (top-down/bottom-up)? How do they correlate knowledge and counter-knowledge, and with what mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are they associated?

How can we arrive at a more differentiated understanding of the contradictions often declared as conflicts of use, and how can they be avoided by developing instruments that allow for the diversity of positions and claims? How can participatory processes be designed so that civil society's negotiation of potential and open futures for landscape development becomes a democratically guaranteed right, without structural and cultural discrimination?

On request, we will send you the complete core topic papers including references to sources. (The core topic papers are expanded and edited from time to time.)
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