Landscape as a living system

Landscape as a Living System

Borders, and the lands between subjects and objects that give life to a landscape like the borders between countries, are transforming into places new structures and generative identity and: from places of separation to gates into until-now-unknown economic, political, historical and geographic areas; from instruments of opposition to catalysts of co-production, cooperation, and community building processes.

Landscape as a living system

By radically rethinking the way we read (analyzing) and write (planning) the landscapes that surround us, the research and work of the CfGC in this area is based on a redefinition of the nature of the landscape itself and the role that communication can have in relation to it. Beyond an aesthetic/perceptive type of approach, which identifies the landscape as a mere support to human activities, the generative communication paradigm interprets landscape as a living system: a union of natural environments, anthropic activities, infrastructures, networks of relationships and social conflicts, history, and traditions, that lives and feeds on interactions between its various parts–interactions which are in continuous transformation.


A complex resource of incalculable possibilities

This means that communication is the project and, at the same time, the product of what we call “landscape.” It is both the cause and the effect. Generative communication identifies the elements which make up this system and the fabric that characterizes it, recognizes in it the declared and undeclared, conscious and unconscious aims, and is able to direct energies toward that which is believed to be most suitable for the target objectives.
The conviction at the base of the CfGC’s interventions is the relationship between man and nature: the convergence of physical, man-made, biological, ethnic, historic, and geographic characteristics that give life to a landscape (industrial, agricultural, urban, etc.). This relationship is a complex resource and, as such, it offers possibilities that are practically incalculable and unpredictable so long as it’s possible to operate on the web of active connections or on those still to be discovered or created. This is the DNA of every present and future landscape.

The Earth is a complex physical-biological-anthropological whole in which life is an emergence of the history of terrestrial life. The relation/relationship of man with nature cannot be conceived in a reductionist or disjointed way.
Edgar Morin

Good communication for weaving unknown fabric from distant resource

Among the various available dimensions, in CfGC projects it is the ignored potential dimension that is most often incredibly rich in resources. By connecting what previously seemed distant, places that weren’t even imaginable are opened up to creativity, offering temporary dimensions that could not even have been intuited: in-between terrain to be explored, planned, and built. The new frontiers of our times are not in front of us, but amongst us.
We should seek these new, unknown and still-to-be-created webs of connections–which are wonderfully generative of resources–in the landscape of the future. The theory of complexity is confirmed. And this is the case not only for subjects that make up an already defined landscape that is recognized for what it is, but also for relations amongst various landscapes.


The CfGC approach to
"Landscape as a Living System"

Complex landscapes

Landscape, defined as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” (Council of Europe, 2000), is one of the privileged settings in which the relationship between man and nature is expressed; in other words, between the natural and the artificial.

Nature very rarely operates in static compartments and humans with their activities are no different. As Morin explained, the relationship between man and nature cannot be addressed through a specialistic approach or fragmented knowledge but through general theories; also in General System Theory, Von Bertalanffy (1968) states we need transdisciplinary theories that embrace the true complexity of the phenomena with which we measure ourselves on a daily basis.
The ecological approach considers Man and all his activities as an integral part of environmental dynamics, recognizing landscape as a “complex system of ecosystems.” In other words, it’s that in which man finds himself immersed. This is not a small step, considering that for almost all of the 20th century landscape was considered something outside, detached from man, with a tendency to divide, separate, and fragment environments which, if put into a system together, could reinforce each other.

Landscape as a living system

Instead, for the CfGC, nature and culture (physical landscape and cultural landscape) are the matrix from which different landscape-systems evolve. They are, in turn, formed of interacting elements that constantly exchange information and communicate with the external environment.
From this perspective, the most recent studies in ecology recognize landscape as a living system in which anthropic activities and natural elements find stability in continuous interaction and, above all, in constant evolution. Similar to other organisms, landscapes increase their resiliency and ability for self-regulation as the resources available to the system increase, whether they’re industrial or manufacturing, agricultural or cultural activities or natural phenomena. In other words, landscapes become stronger when they have greater resources.

Good communication for landscape health

Therefore landscape, as a living system, distances itself from the idea of scenery or as a support for human activities and becomes an active socio-economic and cultural subject. It transforms and must constantly transform itself, creating new links among subjects that have never worked together before and, at the same time, reforming and rewriting already existing collaborations.

To ensure good interconnections for the landscape-system and thus, lasting systemic stability, “good” communication can’t help but go beyond the role that has been traditionally attributed to it–that of transmitting information via rigid one-way channels to pre-established targets–and concentrate on its reticular potential and ability to create systems.
From this point of view, generative communication plays a fundamental role, together with institutions, agencies, and associations, in planning and managing systemic interventions. Working together, they can write and also rewrite the landscape–be it urban, agricultural, human, cultural, etc.–to:

  • identify new resources;
  • work on networks of interconnections;
  • support strategies for cross-sector development;
  • favor the sharing of resources and interdisciplinary competencies;
  • support technological transfer;
  • promote the birth and strengthening of communities of interest and resources (i.e. community building) through mediation and conflict management among stakeholders.

Physical and symbolic dimensions: reading and writing landscapes

Even before considering the physical and geographic or social and economic factors of landscapes, they can be read (in other words, analyzed) through a series of human actions, stratified over time, that record the characters and symbols of the society and culture that have generated them in the geographic space. For a long time, in fact, Man adapted to the landscape, interacting with available resources and cultivating the biodiversity, reading the contexts and adding value to its traditional, inherent vocation (Genius Loci) in order to write or create new places to live and work (physical factor) and to find identity (symbolic factor).

Symbolic and physical landscapes are closely linked and result from the imagination of subjects and the social representations of a community. The progressive transformation of the landscape they stand upon is guided by these factors. However at the same time, the subject and community constantly adapt to their environment, they get their resources from it, they identify with it, they measure the quality of their life and the excellence of their productions by it and of which they are expressions. The symbolic factor continually composes the physical while the physical feeds and orients the symbolic. This is particularly evident in regions such as Tuscany where companies of excellence have known how to benefit from their context, firmly linking the quality of their products with the landscape image. 
The skill of reading a landscape is, therefore, closely linked to a subject’s skill in recognizing themselves as a social participant who belongs to a given community of interest and resources, in a given territorial reality that expresses a series of shared values. In this way, landscape becomes the result of collective writing and awareness, a social text based on people, things, and relationships.

From communication about a landscape to common-action in a landscape

“Good” communication–which generates new connections between ideas and things–is the ideal tool to highlight the deep relationships that link a landscape to human actions. Communication as an instrument that’s rooted in awareness to read and write or rewrite a landscape, rather than a means to promote a territory or product. Communication within the landscape and how it was formed, instead of communication about it, can penetrate more deeply into the web of relations that make up its identity. It can also go beyond long-standing relations among the territory’s resources and identify other potential ones, and instigate planning of new spatial configurations which are–first of all–cultural, economic and social. This is communication that contrasts the natural drift that typically occurs when we are unaware of our actions, on a small or large scale, and the degenerative processes they can trigger.

Writing or transformation of landscape inevitably occurs: people–whether they’re growers or foresters or even industrialists, entrepreneurs or citizens–write and transform the landscape that surrounds them through myriad actions which, unfortunately, they’re often unaware of.
In our case, we are speaking about communication as the sharing of a project, building together a new reality that responds better to the social, economic and cultural needs on the basis of a reading and shared vision of reality. Thus, innovation development results from the common-action of a group of people or community of interests, knowledge, practices or resources who agree on a landscape project (physical or cultural) and use communication to strengthen their vision and community. In this way, they generate and share knowledge, combine resources and expertise–that may seem scattered–to transform new technologies.