--> No. 08

Platteland / Countryside

Periode 2003–2004 / Project Platteland / Countryside / Opdrachtgever OASE / Locatie Nederland / Belgie / Met Marcel Musch


This Oa­se exa­mi­nes the trans­for­ma­ti­on of the coun­try­si­de of the Low Coun­tries.

The Coun­try­si­de 

 

The cul­tu­re and the sta­tus of the coun­try­si­de will un­der­go dra­ma­tic chan­ges over the next se­ve­r­al ye­ars. The most sig­ni­fi­cant cau­se of the trans­for­ma­ti­on is the chan­ges in agri­cul­tu­re, which is un­der pres­su­re from all si­des. Ans­wers will ha­ve to be found for such di­ver­se is­sues as ani­mal he­al­th pro­blems (swi­ne fe­ver, avi­an flu, mad cow di­sea­se), en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­blems (soil aci­di­sa­ti­on and de­ple­ti­on), in­ten­si­fied com­pe­ti­ti­on from other coun­tries as a re­sult of glo­ba­li­sa­ti­on and the re­du­ced rea­di­ness of the Eu­ro­pe­an Uni­on to sub­si­di­se (over) pro­duc­ti­on. Be­cau­se of stea­di­ly in­cre­a­sing ef­fi­cien­cy in agri­cul­tu­re and with it shrin­king chan­ces for sur­vi­val for the small farm, the num­ber of far­mers has been drop­ping for de­ca­des. The ex­pecta­ti­on is that this pro­cess will ac­ce­le­ra­te in ye­ars to co­me. The Agri­cul­tu­ral Eco­no­mics Re­search In­sti­tu­te (LEI) esti­ma­tes that the num­ber of far­mers will drop in the next 10 ye­ars from 90,000 to 75,000. Be­yond the re­duc­ti­on in cul­ti­va­ted land, this will en­tail sig­ni­fi­cant con­se­quen­ces for the ap­por­ti­on­ment and the use of the coun­try­si­de. In this is­sue of Oa­se we exa­mi­ne the his­to­ry and the fu­tu­re of the coun­try­si­de as a cul­ti­va­ted as well as an in­ha­bi­ted lands­ca­pe.

 

In pa­ral­lel to the shrin­king of the area de­vo­t­ed to agri­cul­tu­re, the au­tho­ri­ties and ma­ny na­tu­re or­ga­ni­sa­ti­ons in Bel­gi­um and the Ne­ther­lands are wor­king to de­vel­op lar­ge are­as of land for re­cre­a­ti­on and 'new na­tu­re'. In the Ne­ther­lands, the Fifth Na­ti­o­nal Po­li­cy Do­cu­ment on Phy­si­cal Plan­ning as­su­mes that the quan­ti­ty of agri­cul­tu­ral land will drop by 7 to 20 per­cent. De­vel­o­ping na­tu­re and re­cre­a­ti­on are­as on the lands that are ope­ned up would meet a gre­at 'so­cie­tal need'. This seems to me­an main­ly the need of ur­ban dwel­lers for 'ano­ther kind' of spa­ce. The coun­try­si­de is not con­si­de­red for its in­trin­sic qua­li­ties and po­ten­ti­al, but as an 'emp­ty land' that can be laid out ac­cor­ding to the needs of the ur­ban con­su­mer. This pro­cess usu­al­ly ig­no­res the his­to­ry and dy­na­mics of the coun­try­si­de. In the Dut­ch si­tu­a­ti­on, this ap­pro­ach dove­tails seam­les­sly with a cen­tu­ries-old tra­di­ti­on of lar­ge-sca­le, sys­te­ma­tic in­ter­ven­ti­ons such as the land re­cla­ma­ti­on pro­jects and land con­so­li­da­ti­on. In the­se in­ter­ven­ti­ons, bo­th the old and the new land we­re con­si­de­red as a ta­bu­la rasa. The si­tu­a­ti­on in Bel­gi­um is in ma­ny ways the op­po­si­te of that of the Ne­ther­lands: no lar­ge-sca­le in­ter­ven­ti­ons he­re, but ra­ther small-sca­le trans­for­ma­ti­ons, no sys­te­ma­tic pro­jects but ra­ther pri­va­te ini­ti­a­ti­ves, no 'cre­a­ti­on' of an emp­ty spa­ce that must then be fil­led but ra­ther a pro­cess of con­ti­nu­al ac­cu­mu­la­ti­on and con­den­sa­ti­on.

 

For a long ti­me, agri­cul­tu­re de­vel­o­ped in the Low Coun­tries in com­pa­ra­ble ways. St­ar­ting in the ear­ly Middle Ages the­re was an enor­mous ri­se in agri­cul­tu­ral pro­duc­ti­vi­ty. This was ba­sed on a num­ber of fac­tors: the avai­la­bi­li­ty of ca­pi­tal for in­vest­ment in the agra­ri­an eco­no­my, the de­vel­op­ment and dis­tri­bu­ti­on of know-how and tech­no­lo­gy and the ex­pan­si­on of the mar­ket. Bel­gi­um was con­sis­tent­ly in the fo­re­front of this. The growth of the ci­ties in the Low Coun­tries cre­a­ted a mar­ket for farm pro­ducts and sti­mu­la­ted a mo­re in­ten­si­ve agri­cul­tu­re. The in­ten­si­fi­ca­ti­on of agri­cul­tu­re was ma­de pos­si­ble by means of fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on, which was sti­mu­la­ted by an abun­dant sup­ply of man­ure from the ci­ties. The de­vel­op­ment of ci­ty and coun­try­si­de we­re thus clo­se­ly lin­ked, and the dis­tinc­ti­on bet­ween the two, espe­ci­al­ly in the ear­ly Middle Ages, was not ab­so­lu­te. The­re was a flou­ris­hing in­du­stry in the coun­try­si­de ve­ry ear­ly on, whi­le within the ci­ties, for a long ti­me, all man­ner of crops we­re still being grown and a gre­at deal of catt­le being rai­sed. The on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of tech­no­lo­gy and the growth of com­mer­ce in agri­cul­tu­ral pro­ducts re­sul­ted in a stea­di­ly in­cre­a­sing spe­ci­a­li­sa­ti­on in agri­cul­tu­re and the in­du­stry re­la­ted to it. As a re­sult, the ci­ty and the coun­try­si­de bo­th spe­ci­a­li­sed as well. Each of the two do­mains ac­qui­red a ro­le of its own in the emer­ging agra­ri­an eco­no­my. The pro­ces­sing of milk, me­at, le­a­ther, flax, wool, hops, et ce­te­ra took pla­ce in fac­to­ries in­si­de the ci­ty walls. High-gra­de pro­duc­ti­on in par­ti­cu­lar took pla­ce in the ci­ty, and the ci­ty ob­tai­ned mo­no­po­lies on ma­ny of the­se pro­duc­ti­on pro­ces­ses. The spe­ci­a­li­sa­ti­on of the ci­ty and the coun­try­si­de was the be­gin­ning of a di­cho­to­my which we now ta­ke for gran­ted. Pa­ra­doxi­cally en­ough, this di­cho­to­my was in fact the re­sult of far-rea­ching eco­no­mic in­ter­wea­ving of the ci­ty and coun­try­si­de. 

 

In the twen­tie­th cen­tu­ry the pa­ral­lel de­vel­op­ment of Dut­ch and Bel­gi­an agri­cul­tu­re ca­me to an end. Agri­cul­tu­ral mo­der­ni­sa­ti­on re­sul­ted in a spe­ci­a­li­sa­ti­on of agri­cul­tu­ral ope­ra­ti­ons and op­ti­mi­sa­ti­on of pro­duc­ti­on and soil yields. This was ma­de pos­si­ble by the ex­pan­ding mar­ket and by govern­ment in­ter­ven­ti­ons. St­ar­ting in the 1930s, Dut­ch agri­cul­tu­re was able to ma­ke a hu­ge jump in sca­le as a re­sult of lar­ge-sca­le in­ter­ven­ti­ons – the Zui­der­zee pol­ders and land con­so­li­da­ti­on. The­se lar­ge-sca­le in­ter­ven­ti­ons in the Ne­ther­lands are part of a long tra­di­ti­on of sys­te­ma­tic in­ter­ven­ti­ons. Seven­teen­th-cen­tu­ry im­pol­de­ring pro­jects such as the Beem­ster, fi­nan­ced with the help of a sha­re is­sue, and the al­lot­ment of par­cels in the pe­at and he­a­th­land re­cla­ma­ti­ons are­as st­ar­ting in the ele­ven­th cen­tu­ry are examples of lar­ge-sca­le, sys­te­ma­ti­cally struc­tu­red pro­jects. A spa­ti­al de­sign of­ten play­ed an im­por­tant gui­ding ro­le he­re. The his­to­ry of lar­ge-sca­le land re­cla­ma­ti­ons cul­mi­na­ted in the Noord­oost­pol­der, whe­re the de­sig­ners we­re able to dic­ta­te eve­ry­thing, from pol­der struc­tu­re to buil­dings and far­my­ard lay­out. In Bel­gi­um, on the other hand, the­re was hard­ly any sys­te­ma­tic ap­pro­ach in the coun­try­si­de. From the Middle Ages on­wards the­re was a con­ti­nuous pro­cess of con­den­sa­ti­on and in­ten­si­fi­ca­ti­on. This cree­ping ur­ba­ni­sa­ti­on re­sul­ted in a high­ly lay­e­red lands­ca­pe in which each pe­ri­od has left its mark. The coun­try­si­de was de­fi­ned to a much gre­a­ter ex­tent by pri­va­te ini­ti­a­ti­ves as De­meul­der and Van­den­brou­c­ke put it, it is a the­a­tre of do-it-yourself. What de­fi­ned the ap­pe­a­ran­ce of the Bel­gi­an coun­try­si­de was not the de­sign, but the pro­cess. 

 

In bo­th coun­tries the ti­me seems to be ri­pe for a dif­fe­rent ap­pro­ach to the coun­try­si­de. The Ne­ther­lands will ha­ve to get used to the idea that, des­pi­te le­gis­la­ted na­tu­re 'con­tours', the fu­tu­re of its lands­ca­pe will be de­fi­ned by con­den­sa­ti­on, in­ten­si­fi­ca­ti­on and blen­ding. The de­vel­op­ment of the Dut­ch lands­ca­pe will be in­cre­a­sin­gly de­ter­mi­ned by the pro­ces­ses that ha­ve de­fi­ned the Bel­gi­an coun­try­si­de for cen­tu­ries. The Dut­ch si­tu­a­ti­on, howe­ver, is still not com­pa­ra­ble to that of Bel­gi­um. In Bel­gi­um, thanks to a lais­sez-fai­re po­li­cy and a dee­ply root­ed cul­tu­re of pri­va­te ini­ti­a­ti­ve, the­re is gre­at dy­na­mism in the coun­try­si­de. The­se pro­gram­ma­tic and spa­ti­al dy­na­mics ta­ke pla­ce main­ly at the small-sca­le le­vel at the lar­ge-sca­le le­vel the struc­tu­re of the lands­ca­pe is fair­ly con­stant. In the Ne­ther­lands, the­re is gre­at dy­na­mism at the lar­ge-sca­le le­vel, whi­le at the smal­ler-sca­le le­vel, be­cau­se of gre­a­ter plan­ning re­stric­ti­ons and the ab­sen­ce, for the most part, of a cul­tu­re of par­ti­cu­la­rism, the­re is far less dy­na­mism. Is this a cur­se or a bles­sing? The ef­fort to con­trol the spa­ti­al de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try­si­de in the Ne­ther­lands has re­sul­ted in an open lands­ca­pe. On the other hand, it has also re­sul­ted in the loss of ac­ces­si­bi­li­ty, of small-sca­le struc­tu­res and di­ver­si­ty, of a 'li­ved-in' at­mos­p­he­re. The coun­try­si­de in the Ne­ther­lands needs the in­tro­duc­ti­on of dy­na­mism through the in­tro­duc­ti­on of 'in­tel­li­gent pro­ces­ses'. In Bel­gi­um, pro­blems are con­cen­tra­ted in the sil­ting up of the lands­ca­pe as a re­sult of 'spon­ta­neous' pro­ces­ses. This be­gs the ques­ti­on of whe­ther the­re is any re­me­dy for the cul­tu­re of 'par­ti­cu­la­rism' and whe­ther this form of coun­try­si­de dy­na­mism should not be tre­a­su­red. At the sa­me ti­me, in an in­cre­a­sin­gly ur­ba­ni­sed coun­try­si­de, which can be la­bel­led nei­ther ci­ty nor coun­try­si­de, the­re will be in­cre­a­sing de­mand for an 'other' spa­ce, a spa­ce which con­trasts in sca­le and form with the end­less do-it-yourself lands­ca­pe. In Bel­gi­um, the­re­fo­re, the chal­len­ge for the coun­try­si­de will main­ly con­sist of in­tro­du­cing ca­re­ful­ly de­sig­ned con­trasts. The pre­ce­ding is a brief sum­ma­ry of the pro­ces­ses and pro­jects that ha­ve de­fi­ned the ap­pe­a­ran­ce of the coun­try­si­de in the past and will de­fi­ne it in ye­ars to co­me. Against this back­ground of part­ly au­to­no­mous pro­ces­ses of trans­for­ma­ti­on, the ques­ti­on will ha­ve to be what spa­ti­al charac­te­ris­tics should be de­vel­o­ped and main­tai­ned in the coun­try­si­de. The ex­ten­si­ve 'ur­ba­ni­sa­ti­on' of the coun­try­si­de and the ad­vent of new pro­gram­mes are ma­king the pu­blic spa­ce the fo­cus of the de­sign chal­len­ge. The nu­merous spa­ti­al claims on the coun­try­si­de ma­ke the ques­ti­on of which form of pu­blic charac­ter is desi­red an ur­gent one. The per­cep­ti­on of the coun­try­si­de is vi­tal to this. 

 

The coun­try­si­de is de­fi­ned by a num­ber of evi­dent charac­te­ris­tics: gre­at struc­tu­ral ele­ments such as ri­vers, wood­lands, moors, ave­nues, brooks, et ce­te­ra, the open spa­ce bet­ween them and their re­la­ti­on to agri­cul­tu­re. The gre­at lands­ca­pe ele­ments are high­ly de­fi­ning for the vi­su­al per­cep­ti­on and the pu­blic charac­ter of the lands­ca­pe, and the­re­fo­re it is un­der­stan­da­ble that they are the fo­cus of most of the at­ten­ti­on in lands­ca­pe plans. The most im­por­tant charac­te­ris­tic of the coun­try­si­de, howe­ver, is that it is an in­ha­bi­ted and cul­ti­va­ted lands­ca­pe with a pri­va­te charac­ter. This dis­tin­guis­hes it from 'na­tu­re'. It is the busy, li­ved-in coun­try­si­de, first re­ve­a­led in the pas­to­ral lands­ca­pes of the seven­teen­th cen­tu­ry. Alt­hough the coun­try­si­de is ide­a­li­sed in the­se lands­ca­pes, this pas­to­ral qua­li­ty, in spi­te of all the chan­ges, is still re­cog­ni­sa­ble in ma­ny pla­ces in the Ne­ther­lands. Alongside this the­re is a much mo­re eve­ry­day, far less Ar­ca­di­an va­ri­ant of the coun­try­si­de. The per­cep­ti­on of this coun­try­si­de is main­ly de­fi­ned by ge­ne­ric ele­ments, the far­my­ards and farm­hou­ses, the pa­ths, the small wood­lands, far­my­ard bor­ders, et ce­te­ra. Of the­se ge­ne­ric ele­ments, the far­my­ards are the most sta­ble fac­tor. All the­se ele­ments are part of a spe­ci­fic ty­po­lo­gi­cal fa­mi­ly. The in­ter­ac­ti­on of the­se dif­fe­rent ty­po­lo­gi­cal fa­mi­lies re­sults in a 'struc­tu­re' im­po­sed on the lands­ca­pe and as a who­le de­fi­nes the spe­ci­fi­ci­ty of the coun­try­si­de. The in­ter­ac­ti­on of ge­ne­ric ele­ments and the lands­ca­pe de­fi­nes the lo­cal charac­ter of an area.

 

The struc­tu­re of ge­ne­ric ele­ments emer­ges 'from the bot­tom up' a net­work lo­gic ap­plies he­re. A charac­te­ris­tic example is the re­la­ti­ons­hip bet­ween farms, far­my­ards and ac­cess roads. The ori­gi­nal, com­plex pat­terns are the re­sult of a li­mi­ted num­ber of ty­po­lo­gi­cal dic­ta­tes. The­se dic­ta­tes co­me from a com­bi­na­ti­on of two fac­tors: the cul­tu­ral­ly de­ter­mi­ned or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of the far­my­ard and the spe­ci­fic charac­te­ris­tics of the lands­ca­pe in a par­ti­cu­lar area. The or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of the far­my­ard is ba­sed on a uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ple: it is di­vi­ded in­to a fe­mi­ni­ne and a mas­cu­li­ne si­de. This di­vi­si­on co­mes from the ori­gi­nal di­vi­si­on of la­bour on the farm. The mas­cu­li­ne si­de of the farm is al­ways cal­l­ed the re­ar, the fe­mi­ni­ne si­de the front. In the re­ar is whe­re the barns are and whe­re the far­my­ard and the land are con­nec­ted. It is de­pen­dent on the lands­ca­pe struc­tu­re in which the 're­ar' is lo­ca­ted. In the old lands the re­ar is orien­ted to the ac­cess way on the new land (re­cla­ma­ti­ons, pol­ders) the re­ar is orien­ted to the par­cel. The or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of the far­my­ard and the spe­ci­fic lands­ca­pe struc­tu­re to­gether de­ter­mi­ne the ac­ces­si­bi­li­ty of the coun­try­si­de and the re­la­ti­ons­hip bet­ween the pri­va­te and the pu­blic (or col­lec­ti­ve) do­main. It is pre­ci­se­ly this ac­ces­si­bi­li­ty and spe­ci­fic re­la­ti­ons­hip bet­ween the pu­blic and the pri­va­te do­mains that ha­ve to a lar­ge ex­tent tra­di­ti­o­nal­ly de­fi­ned the per­cep­ti­on of the coun­try­si­de.

 

In the coun­try­si­de, ac­ces­si­bi­li­ty has tra­di­ti­o­nal­ly been ba­sed on in­for­mal, im­pli­cit ru­les that ha­ve been cre­a­ted within a col­lec­ti­ve, such as the in­tri­ca­te ac­cess struc­tu­re of the hub farmsteads in Twen­te, for example, or the chur­ch pa­ths that lin­ked the coun­try­si­de po­pula­ce with the chur­ches and vil­la­ges. As a re­sult of all man­ner of pro­gram­ma­tic and so­cio-cul­tu­ral pro­ces­ses and be­cau­se of spa­ti­al chan­ges as a re­sult of land con­so­li­da­ti­on or the con­struc­ti­on of new in­fra­struc­tu­re, ma­ny of the­se net­works ha­ve fal­len in­to disuse, be­co­me frag­men­ted or dis­ap­pe­a­red. The­se in­for­mal net­works, or frag­ments the­reof, can be put to use in new si­tu­a­ti­ons. This does not en­tail de­vel­o­ping the­se net­works as an au­to­no­mous struc­tu­re im­po­sed from abo­ve. The chal­len­ge in the coun­try­si­de is to de­vel­op a form of pu­blic charac­ter re­la­ted to eve­ry­day li­fe, not in­crea­se pe­ne­tra­ti­on per se. This is a con­trast to the pu­blic charac­ter of re­cre­a­ti­o­nal wal­king and cy­cling rou­tes, which are being laid out as an au­to­no­mous world in the lands­ca­pe, alongside and across the far­mer's land. This in­vol­ves a re­mar­ka­ble tur­na­round. The ur­ban con­su­mer ex­pects the coun­try­si­de to be en­ti­re­ly open and ac­ces­si­ble. This ig­no­res the fact that the lands­ca­pe is for the most part in pri­va­te hands. In this re­gard, it is re­mar­ka­ble that in the Ne­ther­lands the govern­ment is pro­po­sing an am­bi­tious trans­for­ma­ti­on of the coun­try­si­de, even though its au­tho­ri­ty over it is mar­gi­nal. The re­sult is that the coun­try­si­de is be­co­ming part of a re­cre­a­ti­o­nal lands­ca­pe en­ti­re­ly at­t­uned to the de­mands of the ur­ban con­su­mer. The con­su­mer sees himself, as it we­re, re­flec­ted in the re­cre­a­ti­o­nal lands­ca­pe and this sud­den­ly lands him in an emp­ty spa­ce. The lands­ca­pe has not been brought clo­ser but ra­ther put at a dis­tan­ce. Inste­ad of this, the chal­len­ge for the coun­try­si­de should be lin­king the de­vel­op­ment of the pu­blic do­main to the de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try­si­de as an in­ha­bi­ted and cul­ti­va­ted lands­ca­pe. 

 

Wil­le­mijn Lof­vers and Mar­cel Musch

with thanks to Greet Bie­re­ma and Joks Jans­sen 

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