PAP 42 : Landscape as a tool of government

False oppositions and real synergies

Jean-Pierre Thibault, September 2020

Le Collectif Paysages de l’Après-Pétrole (PAP)

Concerned about ensuring the energy transition and, more generally, the transition of our societies towards sustainable development, 50 planning professionals have come together in an association to promote the central role that landscape approaches can play in spatial planning policies. Relating experiences, analysing processes, identifying methods, our editorial platform periodically disseminates notes and notes to deepen the debate and facilitate the dissemination of initiatives led by the territories.

Contributing to our well-being and ensuring the sustainability of our socio-economic systems, the post-oil landscape will have to implement the energy transition without which a human civilisation worthy of the name cannot survive on our planet. It will be able to dispose and plan the agricultural and forestry activities of our countryside to supply mankind and maintain nature. It will improve the spaces of our cities and their outskirts, where most of humanity lives, in unequal conditions of comfort. The implementation of this undertaking relies on citizens, decision-makers and landscape planners. It is now important to develop an action programme that describes how to raise awareness, educate and train people in landscape; how to restore, build, equip, plan, manage, preserve and above all reconquer the landscape quality of our country. A programme to be equipped, of course, with the human and financial resources to match its ambition. To give substance to this mobilising perspective, it is important to go beyond the binary choices that have often guided our attempts at landscape policies until now: the distinction between the national and the local, the exceptional and the everyday, and also, more insidiously, the disjunction that brings the living environment into sustainable development without really thinking further about this articulation. Let us attempt a conceptual adjustment effort to suggest what dynamic dialectics can be established between these levels of reality, in order to get away from the compromises, approximations and hierarchical cleavages that come from another era.

National, regional, local: scales to combine and not to oppose

In our country of old Jacobean culture, an action plan can only be national. Such a conception makes us lose sight of how initiatives of local origin can come to support the possibility of national statements, the latter, as translators, contributing then to accelerate the dynamics already underway in certain territories. In other words, any action plan must be able to establish an adequate relationship between local achievements and national orientations: without the one, the one without the other is exhausted, the one with the other feeds into the other. In a number of neighbouring countries, national-level documents have been drawn up which define certain operational priorities: « National Landscape Strategy » in Ireland, « Carta nazionale del paesaggio » in Italy, « Conception Paysage » in Switzerland, « Llei del Paisatge » in Catalonia. A general inspection report issued in December 2017 entitled « Landscape approaches in Europe »1 made the first recommendation that the French government should draw up a strategy which, like our neighbouring countries, would enable us to implement various priority applications. Speaking to a minister, it was logical to call for such a pre-eminence of the State. It would have required the commitment of a political leader of sufficient weight2, who has not been found for three years. The report’s second recommendation was based on certain dynamics underway at the regional level. The aim was to encourage the generalisation of ‘landscape networks’3 which bring together, in different regions, public and private landscape players in order to exchange their practices and pool their data. The capacity for inter-knowledge of the actors is real in such a framework and on such a scale. Such a dynamic already exists in a significant number of regions. In Midi-Pyrénées, the network has brought together since 2003 the State services, the CAUEs and various university laboratories4. New Aquitaine with the landscape school of Bordeaux, Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne and the Hauts-de-France have since then formed networks of which the regional authorities are founding members as well as, sometimes, the NRPs and even town planning agencies5.

The national level must not be underestimated, however: awareness campaigns would be within its remit, as would the development of a reference framework of professions, the implementation of training for specialists, or the fact of promoting landscape approaches in this or that sectoral policy, such as energy or agriculture. It would be a good idea to establish constructive relations between these initiatives to be carried out on a national scale and the work of regional networks, which themselves draw on certain intermunicipal approaches and are capable of stimulating others. A particularly interesting initiative at this intermunicipal level is the setting up of the Club plans de paysage, which brings together the hundred or so winners of the calls for projects launched by the Ministry of Ecology since 2014: metropolises (Dunkirk, Nantes, etc.), major sites, regional (Morbihan) or national (les Calanques) nature parks, but also rural areas (Vallée des Gaves in the Pyrenees) or peri-urban areas (Bordeaux outskirts)6. Given the growing number of its members, it would no doubt be useful to divide this national club into regional groups that would be animated by the multi-partner networks mentioned above. It is important to promote a system of fruitful return trips between these three levels. There is nothing contradictory between the construction of a local project and the legislative battle: the legislator can only take action if a number of initiatives provide him with the material - and sometimes force him to do so; the law adopted will in turn give rise or impetus to broader or renewed needs for action in the field. This process exists in landscape as in many other fields.

The exceptional, the vanguard of everyday life

But on which landscape(s) do we propose to act? For some, « ordinary » landscapes should be the main object of the necessary vigilance or care because they are more often degraded or threatened than the exceptional landscapes protected by public recognition which has endowed them with a gallostatut to monitor their evolution8. This opposition is absurd and counterproductive. Nothing is more false than to consider that a legally protected landscape can remain a still landscape: trees grow, houses can fall into ruins, the human activity that created these provisions considered picturesque evolves and sometimes fades away. For such places, whether it comes from the peasant or the landscape gardener, landscape intervention is therefore as indispensable as for the space of everyday life. Moreover, the development of such spaces represents an opportunity to experiment with original solutions that respect the « characteristic and significant elements » of the protected site8.

As conceived, for example, by the Réseau des Grands Sites de France, the dynamic management of these spaces allows and even encourages such experimentation9, in a permanent dialogue with the State agents present on the territory (Site Inspector and Architect of Buildings of France).

Because of their geomorphological configuration, these territories considered as exceptional have not, in general, been subjected to the same pressures as less remote territories. Remaining on the sidelines, they have not been won over by activity zones and roundabouts, while developing other forms of consumption and marketing based on the recognition of a particular local quality. The notion of terroir and the solutions developed by the AOC syndicates, often present in many large sites, are now inspiring those seeking to enhance their natural potential by installing agro-ecological farming methods, renewable energies and various industries. The same applies to the deployment of their cultural potential.

The seemingly constrained frameworks of protected areas are therefore as many landscapes where agricultural or forest management projects can be developed: thus, on the large site of Bibracte-Mont-Beuvray, the landscape designer Claude Chazelle’s project of staging the ancient Gallo-Roman city buried under the forest10, or the « happy subtractions » of landscape elements contrary to the « spirit of the place » carried out in several sites by Alain Freytet11.

The boundary between exceptional spaces and everyday spaces becomes even more blurred when the so-called protected spaces export their know-how to their periphery in the context of landscape plans of which they take the initiative. This is the case, between the metropolis of Montpellier and the Grand Site of Saint-Guilhèm-le-Désert, of the landscape plan « of the Hérault gorges and the surrounding plains and causses ». It is supported by the Hérault Valley community of municipalities, which manages the Grand Site, but also by the Grand Pic Saint-Loup and Cévennes communities of Ganges and Suménoises. From the city centre to the neighbouring Cévennes, it is indeed important to counteract the trivializing effects of the « strong urban pressures linked to the development of the Montpellier metropolis  »12.

Bras Restaurant near Laguiole (France Aveyron)- Éric Raffy et Philippe Villeroux arch. 1992 - Natural Park Aubrac.

Combining the living environment and the transition to sustainable development

The opposition between the seductive but vague expression « living environment » and the technically mobilising perspective of sustainable development also needs to be reworked. We too often reduce the landscape to its qualitative apprehension by each individual. Landscape then constitutes an additional sectoral approach, the one that will seek to restore some order and beauty to a chaotic spatial environment. This meritorious intention sometimes comes at the end of the process. It is understood as an embellishment whose sustainability is in fact not guaranteed. In the 1970s and 1980s, the pedestrianisation of certain streets in the historic centres provided the heritage buildings of our cities with a more pleasant context. All too often, these operations created museum spaces, with a purely tourist commercial purpose, and contributed to or even accelerated the demographic decline of these districts. In the same way, the relocation of hedges in areas with a hedgerow tradition appears to be an indispensable measure. However, if their location is not studied from the point of view of agro-ecological functionality (in relation to the nature of the soil and able to favour the cultivation auxiliaries) and naturalism (their inclusion in the green framework), we will have been content with a short-lived pleasure. Promoting hedgerows from an aesthetic and heritage point of view is not enough: they have to be part of the eco-agro-system and ensure its functioning. Too often we talk about « landscape quality objectives » without thinking about how they can ensure the environmental, energy or urban functionality qualities that everyone is beginning to recognise as being imperative. By remaining with a very reductive interpretation of the notion, we call landscape an aesthetic and vague « quality supplement », which will be treated when we have the time, as a « plus », sometimes optional. These « quality objectives » have relevance and legitimacy only if they are set within the perspective of sustainable development, which they can facilitate if not ensure13. In fact, the desire for a more pleasant living environment contributes to, and is even a condition for, social support for ecological transition processes. To separate the landscape from sustainable development is to stop along the way. Conversely, it is important to give the territorial project an ambition of sustainability which, going beyond mere embellishment, takes the path of harmony and beauty in order to make as many people as possible adhere to the transition. Already mentioned in our articles « Signed PAP », some examples of successful transitions can illustrate this principle.

In the Bruche valley, softwoods had been planted everywhere to compensate for the industrial, pastoral and agricultural decline of the valley. Over the course of several decades, the horizons of the villages had darkened. In order to prevent the forest from closing off the area, there was then talk of a « reconquest of light » in the villages. It was thus by satisfying a concern for the « living environment » (a gain of 48 hours of sunshine per year14) that local actors were able to set up pastoral land associations (AFP) to organise the marketing of products from the reopened areas. These immediately perceptible operations enabled the population and elected officials to support more ambitious objectives, such as reopening, in the valley bottoms, the wet meadows favourable to biodiversity and which contribute to water purity.

In La Duchère, a so-called sensitive district of Lyon, demographic decline and social disengagement have called for action by the public authorities. They have mobilised the inhabitants of the district to make them the actors of the change to be invented. Those who had fallen victim to the dropout then emphasised the spatial dimensions of a possible reanchoring: buildings of a more modest scale, increased presence of gardens, services and collective relaxation areas, a linear park providing a link with the town centre. Here, the improvement of the living environment was conceived as a lever for the reintegration of a population in social and also ecological distress, as the two dimensions are most often combined.

The spectacular redevelopment of the quays of the Garonne River in Bordeaux is part of a general movement to « turn » central cities towards their rivers, as in Nantes, Lyon or Rouen. This geographical inscription which exalts the reality of their site combines all the dimensions of the ecological transition: The opening of the quays as a space for relaxation and leisure brings together people from all walks of life, both from the affluent Chartrons district and from the populous Grand Parc district. In terms of aesthetics and heritage, the renovated quays enhance the sumptuous facades of the Port of the Moon, built in the 18th century, which are at the forefront of the sumptuous façades. Combining the usefulness and the pleasantness praised by the Marquis de Girardin a little more than two hundred years ago15, this reinvention gives the measure of the economic and social impact of the landscape as a political tool.

These examples renew the founding categories of the action. Forgotten is the disjunction between a futile or elitist « living environment » and a « sustainable development » whose high ambitions alone would convince lucid planners. The conjunction of these two dimensions revives the content. The landscape approach is not only about harmony of perceptions, but it cannot do without it, otherwise it will leave the local actors by the wayside. Among human beings, sensitivity to beauty remains a vector of mobilisation that should not be neglected. Let us therefore talk about sustainable and harmonious development of the territory, by and for the landscape. Useful approach, pleasant result…

What we call the post-oil landscape.

  • 1 CGEDD report « Landscape approaches in Europe, elements of paragon for French public policies ». Its content is described in Signé PAP n° 24 " Vers un après-pétrole européen ? A propos des politiques du paysage de nos voisins « , September 2018.

  • 2 The cross-cutting nature of the landscape approach presupposes that the member of the government who would be in charge of it can convince his colleagues in charge of agriculture, transport, urban planning, education, culture, etc. of the usefulness of launching such an approach.

  • 3 Op. cit., p. 37, with the recommendation « mettre en place un réseau paysage dans chaque région qui n’en dispose pas encore».

  • 4 Following the regrouping of the regions, it was extended to the whole of Occitania.

  • 5 Since 2019, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes landscape network has brought together the DREAL, the DRAC, the regional council, the CAUE, the network of regional nature parks and the network of urban planning agencies.

  • 6 List of Club members and activities on the extranet with username: planpaysage, and password: extr@planpaysage.

  • 7 So much so that the classified sites are scorned by some landscape designers who think that their creativity as designers would come up against too many constraints.

  • 8 Definition of « landscape protection » in Article 1-d of the European Convention.

  • 9 See the framework document « Le paysage au coeur de la démarche des Grands Sites de France », p. 3: « This innovative management makes the Grands Sites de France a laboratory for all landscapes ».

  • 10 « Claude Chazelle’s study shows that the value of a global landscape approach to archaeological sites lies in the fact that it can initiate (at a lower cost) a reading of the site in its environment, facilitate the focusing of the gaze on particular archaeological evidence and increase the motivation of the public ».

  • 11 Signed PAP n°10, " Le Temps des soustractions heureuses « , Alain Freytet, May 2017.

  • 12 Summary of the objectives and first steps of the plan on the sites of the three intermunicipalities:

  • 13 The definition of these « objectives » by the European Landscape Convention ("formulation by the competent public authorities, for a given landscape, of the aspirations of the population with regard to the landscape features of their living environment") is very clearly inscribed, like all this international text, in the transition towards sustainable development. In § 3 of the preamble, the signatories to the Convention affirm their « concern to achieve sustainable development based on a harmonious balance between social needs, the economy and the environment ». This motivation is at the basis of the entire text.

  • 14 See the article by Yves Gorgeu « Mettre l’humain au cœur des paysages : l’exemple de la vallée de la Bruche », Signé PAP N° 23

  • 15 « The composition of landscapes on the ground or ways of embellishing Nature near dwellings by combining the pleasant with the useful », René-Louis de Girardin, Geneva, 1777. The name of the Marquis de Girardin is attached to the creation of the Ermenonville park.