Community Supported Landscape Regeneration

Msc. thesis project Flore Bijker and Lian Kasper

whole report can be viewed here

Is there social support for the implementation of large-scale landscape machines in populated regions? What is the role of (local) people within the landscape machine concept? What allowances does the re-design of landscapes offer for the creation of (local) maintenance structures and appreciation?

These are the type of questions that came to mind when we first encountered the landscape machine concept. We were of the opinion that the concept would benefit from an increased attention to social aspects of landscapes and landscape change, especially if a large-scale landscape machine is intended to reach implementation in a societal context. In our thesis project we investigated the issue of social support for large-scale landscape regeneration projects, which could include landscape machine designs of the ‘system repair type’.

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In the thesis project, we introduce the ‘Social Feedback Model’,  which enables analysis of complex social-ecological systems. The phenomenon of ‘social feedback’ between landscape appreciation and consequent attitudes and behavior towards the landscape proved particularly helpful in understanding social mechanisms that either disable or support landscape change and large-scale regeneration efforts.

Through the use of the Social Feedback Model in a multidisciplinary literature review, three case studies of regeneration projects and an analysis of the existing socio-spatial situation of the Vechtplassen region in the Netherlands we increased our understanding of social mechanisms. We were subsequently able to introduce conditions that underlie critical support for landscape regeneration, based on the need for empowerment of local people in the landscape on input (governance), output (use and accessibility) and social feedback level (knowledge and awareness). These conditions imply the need for new social contracts for responsibility-sharing between governments and local parties, the creation of local capacity through communal networking and agreements, and prospects of (new) direct relationships between local people and the natural environment.

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The conditions are applied in a strategy for socially supported landscape regeneration as well as in a spatial design for the Vechtplassen region. In this way we show the possibility to deliberately plan and design for landscape regeneration that is supported by local communities. Application in design also leads us to our final suggestion towards the landscape architectural discipline: to increase  focus on the facilitation of social processes, the exchange and accessibility of knowledge and the shaping of new ways for local people to be directly connected with the natural system.

This project shows the concerns that may come up when large-scale spatial plans like landscape machines are proposed to local people in their social/spatial reality. Concepts like the landscape machine will need strategies in order to  avoid local resistance to change. We therefore propose that designers do not only occupy themselves with the design of the technical landscape machine, but that they also use their expertise to tackle social issues and build social support, and that they think of ways to embed (roles for) local people within the machine landscape. This will greatly affect the ability of these types of large-scale plans to leave the drawing board and become reality.

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Program 1: an enlarged scope of focus for the landscape architect: enticing large parties in the area to open up land, resources and knowledge for initiative by local communities. Creating prospects for local people in the landscape in terms of use and enjoyment of ecosystem services.

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Program 2: an interactive platform on which knowledge and information about the area can be shared, lowering the threshold for people to be well informed, gain awareness and connect to each other.

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Program 3: facing (sometimes drastic) changes, communities are encouraged to get together and form local agreements and responsibility structures. Local visions get institutionalized by the municipality.

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Example of an initiative: the ‘houses of nowhere’ (inspired by the concept of ‘huisje van niks’, WTS architecten) form an example of new entrepreneurial initiatives that can take place in a changed (partially inundated) landscape. People can ‘sail’ with the floating, autarkic houses through the landscape, and stay overnight at a quiet place.

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Another example of an initiative: the ‘water machine’ landscape can be seen as both a ‘productive’ and a ‘system repair’ landscape machine,  triggered by the need for inundation of a deep reclamation. The plan of combining fish and duckweed farming with recreational initiatives in an accessible landscape resulted from the wishes of the local community and is carried by a local cooperative in which (most) local people own shares.