I'm not following NRK's historical reality success, Year, where people are set to live in Fredrikstad around the year 1700. But on P2's program Echo The other day I heard an interesting explanation about what it looked like physically in our country at that time. The landscape in much of southern Norway was very different than it is now, a historian told. Large areas were as good as deforested. Exports of wood to foreign countries, including sailing shipbuilding, had stripped the country of trees. Ordinary citizens hardly had much to say.
This is essentially different from today's situation. Today's landscape has become democratized. I just read the book Mainstreaming Landscape Through the European Landscape Convention, with Karsten Jørgensen, Morten Clementsen, Kine Halvosen Thorén and Tim Richardson as editors – all researchers from the Norwegian University of Environmental and Life Sciences (NMBU). The book, of course, will not be a kiosk night, until it is too narrow and academic, but it is important in view of the further development of Norwegian and European landscapes.
The view of the landscape. The European Landscape Convention was signed in the year 2000. Today 40 European states have ratified it, and Norway was among the very first. The convention shows a paradigm shift in the view of landscape, from being a sector – to becoming a common arena where all kinds of activities take place. Such "landscape" is defined in the convention, it is about how people perceive an area, and the nature of the landscape is seen as a result of both natural and human factors. This means, according to the book, that the whole of the earth's assault is a landscape – and how we look at that landscape helps to add value.
Does this mean that we will have more variation in the landscape types, or will on the contrary lead to more alignment? Perhaps the latter, wonders the authors, who still see the most opportunities in the convention. It obliges us, among other things, to assess whether landscapes are adequately safeguarded in the legislation, to improve the actual knowledge of their own landscapes, to help raise awareness in civil society, private organizations and public agencies, and to provide the population, local / regional authorities and other opportunities for participation in landscape policy.
And all this we shall report on, every two years, to the Council of Europe Conference on the Landscape Convention.
Thanks to the Renaissance. This must be an extended form of extended environmental protection, given that the convention covers all types of landscapes; urban and rural areas, coast and mountains. It can be so-called valuable or ordinary landscapes, and those that may need repair. The convention does not aim to prevent changes, but rather to influence them in the direction people want. And it places particular emphasis on landscapes where people live and work, and where children grow up.
In the chapter on historical influences, the Renaissance is (again) highlighted as the source of our thoughts on valuable landscapes. These ideas eventually led to the creation of the world's first national park, in the United States in 1872. Not many years later, we got Virunga National Park in the former Belgian Congo – so there are still mountain gorillas left in the area. The Belgians left something good behind.
In 1959, the Austrian geographer Walter Strzygowski wrote the book Europe needs Nature parks, and the Council of Europe took an interest in the topic. A separate regional charter explicitly stated in 1983 that states had to look carefully at areas of great natural beauty, rich in cultural values and architectural qualities.
Green lungs. The city park otherwise had its big breakthrough in the 19th century. Thoughts from the French Revolution and Rousseau stood strong, and new, public "meeting places" emerged through newspapers, cafes – and urban parks, such as the English Park which opened in Munich in 1789. A dose of wild trees and spontaneity (as opposed to in the French parks) should promote tolerance and a sense of «emancipation». Sculptures were welcome – and that's how a culture got on the trip, such as in Vigelandsparken. Later, sport accounted for an important part of the park facilities, as the tennis courts in Frognerparken and the football courts on Ekebergsletta show.
In Oslo and other European cities, we eventually also got garden cities and green belts. London, the summer city of my childhood, is unsurpassed in that respect. Oslo, with its plan for green corridors from 1934, is also worth bragging about. Nature was to heal wounds created by civilization. With bumblebee, bee and food growing projects, and urban agriculture set in order at Norway's largest construction site Sørenga, our big cities are about to enter a ham shift.
The book suggests that urban nature is important far beyond the ecological, because it has a positive effect on people's morale. The latter must be difficult to measure, but is a positive opportunity I as a reader take with me.
Continuum. The book includes examples from landscape management in Iceland, Switzerland and Sweden, and a concrete example from Sarpsborg – the latter to show practical challenges in planning and implementation. Some are interesting for an ordinary layman, others not. But for politicians, both at municipal and national level, and for landscape architects and students, this is an important book.
The book shows that landscapes today must not only take aesthetic considerations into account, but also be sustainable, regardless of type. Landscapes are important both culturally and environmentally, and as part of the European identity. The Council of Europe has incorporated this into national legislation.
The landscape is a continuum: One passes into the other, and that is why different types of landscape, not least in a city, are so important. In such a perspective, it is easier to understand why the single-family home plan in Oslo is essential. It is easy to arrange election campaign trips to the western edge and point the nose at the rich. But their gardens are also ours – they take care of qualities and biodiversity.
Combat Theme. Landscape and protection are of course not just fun and games. There is also controversy. For example, should the borders of Oslo be sacred? Or should some areas be seen more as transition zones, where facilitation of activity must be allowed? One chapter argues for this. I'm not sure, but the debate is important.
Is our landscape a human right, one of the authors asks. Maybe? In any case, the European Landscape Convention promotes more cultural diversity, more popular participation and more decisions where the stakeholders live. This can mean more conflicts – at least in Norway. Predators and farmers' desire to keep their (grazing) landscape is an example. At one time, some activist farmers tried to stop the predatory game report, referring precisely to the landscape convention.