International call for landscape renewal ideas to foster landscape identity

JÁKLI Eszter, MANDEL Mónika

(From previous issue No.41)

The role of the landscape is getting more and more important in today’s culturally homogenized world, since – opposing the globalization – it guards our site-specific natural and cultural heritage and the traces of the human activity, in this way also defines our individual and communal identity.

The attachment to the landscape is the base of our psychological development, and an elemental part of each culture and each person’s life. It plays and important role in shaping the landscape character as well, as “besides the landscape, it is defined by the historically developed landscape structure, together with the emotions and traditions attached to it.”

There are different levels of landscape identity. The most subjective is individual landscape identity, which is based on the attachment to some elements of our own environment. Communal landscape identity might be interrelated to a wider area – in this case the community identifies itself with the landscape. Regional and national identity is mostly defined by the common history and the similar natural environment. Besides this, European identity can be mentioned as well. The same landscape identity – at any level – is an important tool in community building and cohesion.

Beyond these, strong landscape identity helps the development of settlements and regions. This correspondence was recognized by the European Union as well: it is stated in the European Landscape Convention that “the landscape contributes to the formation of local cultures and that it is a basic component of the European natural and cultural heritage, contributing to human well-being and consolidation of the European identity.”

With this end in view, it can be understood that strengthening the community’s attachment to the landscape, and its identity is of the utmost importance of renewing, revitalizing a landscape, as both the natural-cultural and the social-economical renewal can only be achieved by actively involving the local community attached to the landscape by real emotions.

Method and description of the project

We demonstrate the possibilities of fostering landscape identity based on the conclusions of an international landscape call for ideas titled Recovering Landscape and Place Výškovice- Wischkowitz, which was organized as part of the program of European Cultural Capital Pilsen 2015 and evolved to a project with different stages. We had succeeded to enter the 2nd round of the competition.

The aim of the project was to gather ideas about renewing the landscape of Sudetenland, based on the model of an abandoned community of Výškovice.

The former centre of Výškovice

The former centre of Výškovice
(photo: Mandel Mónika)

The goal was to recover and to reinterpret the landscape of the present day. The applicants were asked to search for and find the connection with the identity of the place, with the inhabitants and the Genius Loci, as well as resolving the profound historical problems behind the landscape. The authors of the 5 proposals considered to be the most interesting were invited to the one week long workshop organized in July 2014. The workshop was supervised by both local and international experts. During the time spent outside in the area and at local events we had the chance to get acquainted with the life of the local community as well.

In the 2nd round proposals were developed across 3 interconnected levels. It was expected to contextualise the project site within the potential development of the wider region, to highlight possible connections to the immediately adjacent landscape in the proximity to the village itself, and to place the land-art intervention in relation to the village and wider project site. The land art intervention needed to be developed from the perspective of a `medium’ for communication and interaction, to be able to support the development of the region and to be the centre of different events organized in the future. The five proposals, the book describing the project and the selected land art interventions were built and presented during the final conference in 2015 July held in Výškovice.

Description of the area, analysis

The project site is Výškovice, an abandoned village in the Czech Republic, in Pilsen region, today part of the community of Chodova Planá. The abandonment has tragical historical reasons: after the WWI Sudetenland became part of Czechoslovakia, and after the WWII, based on the Beneš-decrees Germans lost their citizenship and were expelled from the country. As a result, many German communities – including Výškovice - became abandoned. Výškovice was clarified uninhabited in 1974. Today there is only one house and a chapel standing in the former village.

The baroque chapel with the linden tree

The baroque chapel with the linden tree
(photo: Jákli Eszter)

There are many forests and well preserved natural areas in the region, in the same time the intensive agriculture has a negative impact on the environment and the landscape. There are significant differences inside the region, and the main problem is the presence of abandoned villages and many uncultivated land as a result.

In the former settlement, the remains of the orchards, the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) alley leading the the village and a 200-year-old linden tree (Tilia platyphyllos), which is locally protected since 1933, represent important natural and culture-historical values. The main cultural values are: the baroque chapel built in 1775, the former secession styled farmhouse, and the stone honouring the memory of the visit of Goethe. The ruined chapel and cellars, and the disappearing roads are causing aesthetical conflicts, and warning to the risk of cultural values falling into oblivion.

Based on the stakeholder analysis – analysis of potential users: locals, descendants, tourists – we have found that these three groups have different interests. Locals require meeting places and are interested in preserving the natural and cultural values, as well as the descendants arriving with the motivation of getting to know the past. On the other hand tourists are visiting the area mostly for recreational reasons.

Potential tools for fostering landscape identity

Based on the analysis results it can be established that “reconstructing” the landscape is not possible, we cannot go back to the original, past conditions, as the circumstances have changed: both the society and the landscape is different. However, it is possible to heal the wounds: reinterpreting the landscape and creating a new landscape identity, based on the values of the past and focusing on the future. As the attachment of the landscape is determined by the quality of the landscape itself, elements with strong values are needed to be formed which can help strengthen the feeling of attachment.

The workshop participants have proposed different tools for fostering landscape identity. Most of them emphasize preserving and presenting local values, mostly through taking advantage of the potentials of and expanding the existing tourist and cycling path network, and boosting tourism. The winning authors from Czech Republic (Eva Wagnerova and Vit Rypar) suggest restoring an old path connecting the two neighbour villages of Výškovice through the settlement so that the surroundings of the village can be discovered by the people while strengthening their local identity. Our own proposal is focused on this issue as well: we suggest developing the existing network of pathways to a greenway system, which can be a tool for fostering regional landscape identity.

Another possible tool is to change the existing intensive agriculture to smallscale ecological farming in the region. This idea is mentioned in the proposals of the German (Edgar Kaare, Stephanie Ritt, Oliver Engelmayer, Peter Boerboom es Carola Vogt) and the Romanian (Cristina Andrea Pavelescu, Raluca Baco es Stefania Madalina Irimiea) authors. By changing the existing land use, local communities can gain strength again which can result in an increased landscape identity.

Ecologically produced products can be a base for the region’s own brand, which is also a potential tool for fostering landscape identity. This idea is presented by the Romanian group and also in our proposal of the 1st round, through the image of a regional brand created by typical local food and handcrafts. The German group states that creating a regional brand and an identity is the most effective if it can be recognized by a well-known and widely used name of the region. As many different names are used to describe the surroundings of Výškovice, but none of them is really wide-spread, they suggest first to define one.

/read the full illustrated article with citations in issue No.41/

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.