Landscape is a unique resource that is subject to various environmental pressures. Understanding that it is exactly this singularity that makes landscape a scarce resource, public administrators should also take a more active role in its management. How? Incorporating soon the criteria for landscape management into the regulations associated with the processes of urban expansion and/or anticipating the effects of a project that could be harmful to the ecosystem, urban processes, and/or the community in which the project will be located. Understanding landscape as a tool will help to preserve its quality and assure the recognition and preservation of the identity of a place.
Territory is a medium that is subject to constant transformations, both by the action of natural forces and anthropic intervention. Although the condition of change is intrinsic to the landscape, its resilience is often abused without awareness of its possible loss and fragility. As Kevin Lynch said, “Landscapes change from one function to another. They are abandoned and recovered, acquire new forms, return to how they were and on occasion are irreversibly transformed.” (1) These pressures represent threats to ecological, visual-aesthetic, and cultural values, which due to poor management end up degrading the landscapes. Erosion of the inherent qualities of a landscape decreases its value, not only in economic terms, but also in the decline of the community’s interest in it. As explained by Professor of Environment and Territorial Planning Domingo Gómez Orea “the existence of a degraded landscape in a community conveys an improper image in the scale of social values of that community. It demonstrates a lack of sensitivity for its beauty as well as an inadequate spatial order, which has an important impact on visual quality (2).
(1) Lynch, Kevin; Southworth Michael. Echar a perder, un análisis del deterioro (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2005)
(2) D. Gómez Orea. Recuperación de Espacios Degradados (Recuperation of Degraded Spaces) (Madrid: Ediciones Mundi-Prensa, 2004)
The landscape is commonly considered by society to be a public good, i.e., free to enjoy. However, in a context where the landscape is not protected, it is difficult to determine where the freedom to consume begins and ends for those concerned, in such a way that the total good is not affected. For example, when leisure activities and productive activities are in opposition, the landscape begins to behave as a consumer good. Then, when transformed for personal, industrial, real estate or other uses, it can no longer be used or appreciated by others in its original quality (3). Large-scale activities and interventions that favor development, consider economic gains as the main reason for action and regulation, ignoring the negative externalities and/or ecological losses produced. Mining, for example, transforms territorial structures, changing the chromatic range of the soil, removing and incorporating new textures, all of which implies obvious losses of pre-existing characteristics. On the other hand, real estate development often inserts external languages, eliminating climatic and vegetative conditions present in the original landscape. These and other large-scale economic-productive activities, through their level of intervention, are the greatest destructive agents of the landscape. However, they justify their actions because they solve issues such as unemployment or contribute to the social and/or political interests of the country. The problem is that the long-term effects on the ecology and culture are often not considered. What differentiates these from other activities, phenomena, or species is the scale and speed, which does not allow natural processes to reestablish an ecological balance or allow the society to adapt to a language foreign to the local culture.
(3) Cfr. Max Neef, 2005.
One case where this conflict is evident is in the community of Los Vilos, which encompasses landscape units in its periphery that provide unique characteristics, which are geographical, identity-related, environmental and cultural, and are therefore valuable both for analysis in scientific terms, as well as in terms of aesthetics and culture. In addition, like many landscape units along the entire coastline of Chile, these are not recognized and do not have special protection, thus representing an emblematic case of the situation at the national level.
As a result, the context of Los Villos is one crammed with the encounter between infrastructure and natural systems. To the north of the city, there is an extensive system of dunes whose ecological function is interrupted by the crossing of highway Route 5. Two kilometers south of this area is the Conchalí wetlands, a site where the exit port for the Los Pelambres Mine is located. Interestingly, it was only after the installation of the mining company that the wetland was designated as RAMSAR site (4). To the south of the city, one kilometer away, is the Quereo Quebrada (ravine), characterized by its old-growth forest with important archaeological remains and remnants of extinct megafauna (5). Currently in this ravine there are farmhouses with animals that graze nearby. Further south, three kilometers away, there is a second dune system associated with the Quereo sector, which is crossed by the old train line. Here, the Ocho Quebradas project is located, proposed as being considerate of the environment as created by the group Ochoalcubo and the Real estate company Inmobiliaria Pampilla de Quereo (6).
(4) RAMSAR sites: Those included by the RAMSAR Convention (treaty adopted in the Iranian city of the same name) in the “List of Wetlands of International Importance.”
(5) Mendez, C; Jackson, D. López, P.; Seguel, R. Fauna extinta y procesos de formación de sitios: un caso de Palimpesto en el litoral semiárido, Los Vilos, Región de Coquimbo, 2005. (Extinct fauna and processes of site formation: a case of Palimpesto on the semi-arid coast, Los Vilos, Coquimbo Region)
The growth of the Los Vilos community is governed by the Communal Regulatory Plan of 1986, which does not recognize and therefore does not protect any landscape unit of interest in terms of ecological or cultural value. This has resulted in important landscape units being taken over by projects – some illegally – and altering these units ecologically and visually. To date, the city continues to expand, approaching more and more dangerously the dunes, wetlands and streams of ecological and historical importance. Although the Environmental Impact Assessment System (EIAS), a key to institutional regulation of public-private investment projects, has defined a style for development at the national level based on avoiding and reducing conflicts of this type and prioritizing what should be protected, this has not been fully effective. It is still possible to develop projects that are just below the minimums established by the EIAS and to thus avoid the processes of environmental evaluation. This is further evidence of the lack of regulatory instruments that consider landscape as a determining factor in planning at the local level. It is urgent that zoning, intervention, limit-setting, and the use of landscapes of ecological and landscape interest be better incorporated in the policies and actions of pertinent administration, assuming an active role to diminish the loss of our heritage and the possibility of its enjoyment by new generations.
This does not represent an attempt to oppose project development or investment. Nor does it propose that all landscapes remain pristine as true “natural museums,” but it does seek to establish the value of the landscape as a relevant element and a guide at the moment of planning. The balance between landscape and development is an imperative that society as a whole must assume. The quality of the landscape, its identity and the common good can be adequately preserved through joint efforts among the regional, provincial or municipal governments, companies and civil society if regulations and practical tools are established that incorporate ecological, visual, social and cultural values.
Maximiliano Millan Santander. Architect and holds a Master’s degree in Landscape Planning, Diego Portales University. Currently, he is an academic in the Master’s Program for Landscape Planning at the Diego Portales University and also in the Campus Creativo of Andres Bello University. His field of professional interest focuses on the territorial scale in which different complex systems interact that are altered by anthropic and/or natural intervention from an extraordinary range of phenomena.