To ponder on the paths of development, which today are being forged in a more heterogeneous and complex social context, one which is less predictable and perhaps more demanding in the search for creative responses to new challenges, is also to ask how territories are organized and consumed, and what action should be taken in these geographic regions of everyday life.
Rural landscapes in the western world, with their fragilities and particular diffuse features are no longer experienced and regarded solely from the perspetive of their productive potential. Thus, in a different context, they may become more complex, increasing their functional diversity and sustainability.
At the same time, the growing importance of the image and identity of the rural territories and the strategic value of how they are planned and managed are exposed.
Heritage is today recognized as structural element of memory, image and territorial identity, and one of the essential resources for affirming cultural and environmental values against a renewed backdrop of new theories on territorial development, specially in the spirit of territorialist theories, those that best respond to the greatest needs of society and participative citizenry.
But the productivist policies certainly left their imprint on contemporary rural Portugal, especially in more isolated regions, more marked by physical constraints and more remote. The cycles of emigration to Brazil and Europe at the end of the 19th and in the middle of the 20th century, respectively, both provide the context for and bear witness to these facts. At first sight, the raison d’être of this tide of emigration can be found in the historical, semiperipheral position of Portugal relative to territories which have led the field in economic growth since the Industrial Revolution. There was a chronic reliance on the ‘outside’, which corresponded to this relative position. The Portuguese then entered into their demographic and epistemological transitions. But the demographic curve was not accompanied by an economic one. The Portuguese population responded to this difference with spatial mobility, to the outside world, and also to the coast, notably to the large metropolitan areas, particularly Lisbon. This city was increasingly taken as the geo-economic and political centre of Portugal. The interior became depopulated, thanks in part to policies such as the “Campanha do Trigo” (Wheat Campaign) and the “Florestação Estatal dos Baldios” (government sponsored afforestation of the mountain slopes). Another contributory fator was the failure of the procedures of the “Junta de Colonização Interna” (Internal Colonization Board), plus the impotence of the development centres established by the “Planos de Fomento” (Promotion Schemes), and the lack of any clear rural development policy. The ruralist theses of the “Estado Novo” (New State) were more often than not restricted to extolling the simple, healthy, traditional bucolic lifestyle of a submissive and poorly educated people.
Most of Portugal’s rural local authorities, in a country where distances are still relatively large, and concentrated on the coast, have seen their populations decline and grow old, thus losing any benefits in terms of the location of human resources. Lack of functionality and desertion have left deep scars on the landscape of rural Portugal. An important part of the Portuguese identity has been lost, and a swathe of its heritage has been degraded: the forests, the montes (large, isolated estates in Alentejo), the hill villages of northern and central Portugal. Furthermore, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the entry of Portugal into the European Union (1986) have also made their impression. In terms of farming, policies of short-term gain came to rule the day: “The CAP and the provision of funds led to an increase in investment, but in projects outside the context of Portugal’s circumstances and which tend to segregate small farmers, who are the majority, and suffer most harm, which has led to the depopulation and increasing imbalance in the settlement system” (FIRMINO, 1999: 87).
Recent years have borne witness to the growing reassessment of the importance of the rural world (where it is possible to rediscover new centralities, based on quality), and of the values of country life (and these, too, are changing) in terms of the equilibrium and cohesion of the world system. In (Western) Europe, each territory is drawing back the veil to reveal its specific potential, and trying to base new philosophies for the territorial development of rural regions on concepts such as multifunctionality, sustainability and subsidiarity (CARVALHO, 2001).
This reappraisal of the rural does not disregard the core role of farming (in all its aspects: biological, environmental, … and not simply in its productivist version). The farmer thus attains the status of an important player in the task of conserving the heritage and landscape features of the rural world. Farming, indeed, is seen as the heart of the multifunctionality which is intended for the rural areas of Europe.
And so a commitment must be made to the valorization of both the cultural materials belonging to each place and its symbolic cultures, important to the affirmation of self-conception among local people (Reis, 1998). Regarding this, in a context of open competition, the affirmation of a territory or place is also achieved by constructing and disseminating an image of distinction and quality, focused to a considerable extent on the identities and symbolic resources of each place (JANISKEE and DREWS, 1998). The issue of geographic scale is of no relevance here.
A territory should not be seen merely in the context of its ranking in the international productive system. There is a qualitative “leap” here, which is opening the prospect of a vertical and horizontal placing, in a network of cooperation and solidarity. Globalization, which has gained ground in the last few decades, is undoubtedly a fator of rationality, and diffusion of the neo-liberal model. Even so, factors like new information technologies are also opening up the possibilities of reaffirming participative citizenship and the individual identity of each place. Local development thus emerges as the process of linking the global to the local. An interdependent and proative liaison in those of the more tertiarized societies that are conscious of their responsibilities, of their rights and duties.
The new directions taken by European development policies have shown marked changes in the ways of thinking about, and taking action on regions: from an essentially productivist model, launched at the dawn of the 1960s and guided by simple economic criteria (increasing earnings, developing economies of scale, agricultural competiveness, liberalising markets), to a post-productivist model that bestows on the rural world and its people a role that is more environmentalist, ecological and participative (FERNÁNDEZ, 2002). This last aspect requires a multifunctional agriculture: besides supplying farm produce, agriculture also yields public benefits (it cares for nature and the countryside, protects the environment and facilitates land use management), for which the taxpaying citizen has to pay.
The transition from a productivist and economist discourse to an environmental and territorial discourse also means that European rural areas, with their fragilities and individual diffuse properties, have ceased to be viewed and perceived exclusively from the standpoint of their productive potentialities, enabling them to achieve complexity, functional diversity and sustainability, in a quite different context (CARVALHO, 2002).
In the case of peripheral rural areas, the dynamics of recent years has generally intensified the processes of desertion and degradation of buildings and rural landscapes. But some of these regions are now organised and possessed, particularly by town dwellers who value the cultural and landscape elements formerly regarded as a sign of archaism, in a genesis of spontaneous processes or public initiatives, the aim of which is to restore these regions and boost their potentialities. The heritage and landscape value is almost always linked to such actions, and it functions as an anchor for projects and initiatives, with one of the main development options being rural tourism (CARRASCO, 1998).
And so heritage is today identified as an important resource for rural development, which is why the components of a region are key elements for the tourist valuation of a locality.
Landscape itself is thus interpreted as a tourist asset, in the sense that it can represent a useful development tool, something to be prized and preserved for rural tourism (CARVALHO, 2003).
“Landscapes express both the uniqueness and the identity of each locality (genius loci), reflecting the natural history just as much as the cultural history of a region, at a given time. They are dynamic by nature and are constantly changing, but they are also unique to each place” (PINTO-CORREIA, 2001: 198).
The interaction between the natural system and the social system lends a landscape a territorial dimension, in which the way the landscape is appropriated by communities varies as much through the natural system as with the values of the society that is influencing it (PINTO-CORREIA, op. cit.; LEIMGRUBER, 2002).
According to UNESCO, cultural landscapes represent the combined work of nature and man, and this body also acknowledges the enormous variety of such interactive manifestations.
The text of the Convention concerning the Protection of World Heritage (UNESCO, 1972; 1983) describes cultural landscapes as ones which have evolved organically. Nowadays these landscapes can be a relic (or fossil) of the past, or they can even have an ative social role, associated with an evolving traditional way of life.
In the European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe, 2000), signatory countries pledged to regard landscapes as fundamental factors of European identity, incorporating this into their natural and cultural heritage.
It starts from the statement that landscapes are going through an accelerated process of transformation, in a variety of directions, which justifies the need for intervention (defining landscape policies, and including landscapes in sectoral policies).
In the case of cultural landscapes in the rural matrix, what is actually at stake may be summarised in the following questions: How can they be kept functional? How can they be made to evolve harmoniously? As whom? And for whom?
It matters, therefore, that we understand the structuring language, that is, the events and values, and the way in which they are manifested in society-territory bonds, overcoming a phase characterised by a degree of illiteracy (inability or indifference to reading and interpreting landscapes).