Territorial strategies and management are key to promoting the values of a country’s heritage; satisfying everyday logistical needs and legitimate aspirations for quality of life, as well as preparing the framework and dynamic for responsible development. Unfortunately, and all too often, reality presents us with a mixture of haphazard responses to aleatory pressures, academic long-term visioning but without adequate reality planning and adaptability, and an often highly empirical process.
Unfortunately these are facts of life for the majority of developed countries, and it would be utopic to think otherwise. It is also optimistic to think that we systematically learn from our mistakes. I always hoped that Portugal was in a special position and able to learn from the mistakes of other (arguably more advanced) countries who had previously trodden the same path. Sadly this has rarely been the case.
We may attenuate our practices in deference to environmental or other social responsibilities, but radical departure from an activity intrinsically driven by financial motivation, primarily real-estate related is, for most, too uncomfortable to contemplate. And even then the “responsibility” constraint has often been an imposition of EU culture rather than an intrinsic belief. I look back and think of the coastal development in the Algarve in the 70s, where the same mistakes had also been committed and condemned only a few years earlier in Spain. Only to be repeated yet again 20 years later with the thrust of the Algarve’s big resort projects of the 90s. I also think of the road journey from Porto to Braga, hitherto a series of villages interspersed with countryside and now an urban continuum. Thank goodness for the Green Belt policy rolled out nationally in England in 1955 which has been instrumental in conserving the appearance of England’s villages and countryside, albeit also driving a scarcity of accessibly priced housing. However, when we remember that England is over three times as densely populated as Portugal, the difference in aesthetics of its countryside and villages is remarkable.
Where environmental concerns were seen 30 years ago as being quirky, they have now become mainstream – thank goodness! The same will come to pass with mobility and accessibility issues which are now becoming embedded in the lexicon of planners. And like these, there are also questions of inclusion, activities and the like – all of which are part of “Placemaking” and holistically contribute to the quality of life we all seek.
“Placemaking” is not (only) a modern buzz-word to repackage old thinking, but an earnest attempt to create quality places with the complicity of their users and allowing them, residents or visitors, to take pride in the results and establish an implicit quality differentiation with other places. I would like to believe it is possible to apply this on any scale, however big – and theoretically I suppose it is. But we at Placemakers (www.placemakers.pt) think locally and at a more manageable scale whether creating a visitor attraction or a museum project, or contributing to a successful urban regeneration project with the right “software” to make it work as an integrated and sustainable solution!
If we can get it right locally so that the community can see and believe in its positive differentiation factors reinforcing the pride of place, the call to action and pressures on their territorial destiny will create a new bottom-up impetus preserving their heritage for the future.