Landscape Development in the Alps


Key Issues and Recommendations

Whereas landscape was a "side product" of human activities in former historical periods, we are the first generation asked to define which Alpine landscapes we want for our future: intensively used agricultural landscapes? Touristic landscapes up in the mountains and suburban landscapes in the valley floors? Wilderness in the less favoured areas and recreational landscapes near the cities and villages…?

What we have already learned is that landscape is always in a process of change, is never standing still. It is the result of interaction between nature and human beings. If we think about the future of Alpine landscapes, we have to find answers to the following questions: What is important to us? How do we want to live? Where do we want to spend our time? With whom do we want to co-operate? …

Answering these and similar questions will bring us to guidelines for participatory and sustainable landscape development solutions.

Changes in the Alpine cultural landscape have been characterised by high land consumption for development on the one hand, and extensification of land use and marginalisation on the other. In urban agglomerations where many demands on land use have to be met, as well as in tourist centres, new infrastructures and settlement development have imposed a heavy strain on landscapes and on sensitive mountain ecosystems. A polarisation trend can also be observed in agricultural land use: While favoured agricultural sites have been used at high intensity and simultaneously had to compete against settlement development, less favoured sites have lain fallow or been re-forested."

Further Readings & Links

Recommendations for a sustainable future development of Alpine landscapes

(from: E. FAVRY in: PFEFFERKORN et al 2005, p. 199ff)

Sustainable development of Alpine landscapes needs to place emphasis on the following fields of public action:
  1. Spatial balance within the Alps
  2. The balance between development and conservation approaches
  3. Enhancement of inter-sectoral co-operation and regional governance
  4. Dissemination of a comprehensive concept of the Alpine cultural landscape

1. Spatial balance:


The Alps are characterised by a complex and small-scale pattern of development trends. The diversity of regional conditions also calls for diversified public policies and greater sensibility for specific regional and local situations. Public policies must help to reduce the gap between prosperous and less favoured regions within the Alps by considering the problems of lagging rural regions and by promoting urban-rural partnerships. Actors in rural regions will require efficient policy support to be able to benefit economically from regional resources, one of which is cultural landscape. On the other hand, in prosperous Alpine areas such as urbanised valleys or areas of intensive tourism, policy action must tackle phenomena of growth, i.e. they need to reduce development pressure on landscapes and manage land-use conflicts. Furthermore, new strategies for Alpine tourism facing major current challenges should also contribute to a more balanced development of the Alpine space. While enhancing a sound small-scale Alpine tourism can result in a more even distribution of profits from tourism across the Alpine regions, some problematic impacts on cultural landscapes can be prevented through the spatial concentration of intensive tourism in the most suitable areas.

REY (2006)
There are indeed many scenarios and concepts for the future of the Swiss landscapes, but which ones are acceptable to the majority?

2. Balance between development and conservation approaches:

Alpine pasture in the side valley "Walsertal" (Austria), 2003 (Source: WIPP MEDIA)
The future sustainable development of the Alpine space requires a balanced application of different policy approaches that reconciles regulation and development incentives. It is important to promote the concept of the Alpine cultural landscape as an asset and not as an obstacle to economic development. As regards public policies: on the one hand, improvements are required in the evaluation and consideration of spatial impact and landscape effects of development-oriented sector policies (e.g. infrastructure, technology or agriculture policies); on the other hand, nature and landscape protection policies should not exclude economic aspects. Acceptance of protection policies can be substantially increased in protected areas if the local population is involved and conservation aims are reconciled with local development interests. Biodiversity aims can be achieved if nature protection strategies are integrated with agri-environmental measures and spatial plans. Generally speaking, the enhancement of cross-sectoral approaches and integrated regional strategies will be one of the most important future challenges for public policies.

BAUR (2006)
Beautiful landscapes offer high living- and recreational qualities. Is this also important when it comes to attracting global companies to Switzerland?

3. Inter-sectoral co-operation and regional governance:

Discussing landscape development in participatory procedures (Source: W. SUSKE)
The growing need for cross-sector approaches and coordinated action implies the improvement of dialogue and better cooperation between sectoral policies and administrations. At all levels, from the European to the local, adequate and effective cooperation mechanisms must be implemented and promoted. Furthermore, since Alpine countries and regions must meet future challenges and adapt to new demands, values and lifestyles, public policies need to adopt a prospective, future oriented approach. The sustainable development of Alpine regions calls for not only integrated regional strategies but also more bottom-up approaches, participatory procedures and empowerment. In many cases it will be necessary to encourage a dialogue between different stakeholder groups, to improve cooperation structures within the regions, and to enhance exchanges with other regions.

ISCAR (2007)
Landscape Development in Mountain Regions

4. Landscape enables communication between stakeholders

Talking about landscape (Source: W. SUSKE)
The use of different, well-known and innovative communication and participation tools should help to overcome real and mental barriers. In particular, the landscape topic is very useful for integrating the local population in regional planning or development procedures. Since landscape is a key element of regional identity, it can be leveraged as a unifying concept for comprehensive projects. Dealing with landscape change and its causes helps to improve the understanding of complex interrelationships. Hence, landscape should increasingly be used as a communication tool in regional participatory procedures.

Comprehensive concept of Alpine cultural landscape

Future Alpine landscapes: a museum or a place to live and work? (Source: BECHTER)
Most "cultural landscape" concepts as presently conceived have a prevailingly conservative connotation among the general public, as is reflected in policies. The terms "maintenance" and "conservation" are most often used in connection with cultural landscapes, e.g. in agricultural and nature protection policies, while development aspects such as landscape valorisation or landscape design are barely addressed. At the same time, cultural landscape issues are not sufficiently addressed by many economic activities and the corresponding sectoral policies. In the interests of a balanced and sustainable development of the Alps, it will be necessary to disseminate a more comprehensive concept of cultural landscape and to improve the knowledge about landscape issues and the interrelationships between regional development and landscape changes. This could be done by means of information campaigns that address groups of professionals who deal with landscape, such as farmers, engineers or spatial planners. The proposed activities could also include lessons in schools or universities. Agricultural policies designed to enhance quality products and organic food from Alpine agriculture could be supported by consumer information, to ensure a high acceptance of these products.

Although agricultural policy instruments such as agri-environmental measures and compensation payments for less-favoured areas can be considered as important for the maintenance of the Alpine cultural landscape, we believe that equating cultural landscape with agricultural landscape neglects other social, ecological and economic functions of cultural landscape. Therefore, a public discourse on policy objectives should be launched, which goes well beyond the aim of maintaining the area-wide agricultural cultivation.

Several questions require further discussion: What functions does cultural landscape perform? Which are considered as especially important, and where? Does the preservation of museum landscapes for the sake of visitors make sense in specific cases? Who bears responsibility for cultural landscapes? In the long run this discourse should result in the development of new models for financing the maintenance and development of cultural landscapes in the Alps and elsewhere.
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