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MARCH-APRIL 09

QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER OF THE LANDSCAPE OBSERVATORY - 16

THE OBSERVER

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Landscape and communication

Ramon Folch
Doctor in biology, socio-ecologist Director general of ERF

In the early 1980s, the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l'Empordà (Empordà Marshlands Nature Park), splendid wetlands in the north-east of Catalonia, incorporated a former neighbouring agricultural area. Jordi Sargatal, the park manager, asked me to help to resolve the problem of the landscape impact caused by an old raised irrigation canal that crossed the area. In order to add two opinions, I turned to the fine judgement of Gaspar Jaén, a sensitive urban architect from Valencia, who was by chance in Barcelona. To avoid conditioning him, I did not explain the nature of the problem and when we got to the area, he exclaimed spontaneously, "Fantastic, what strength the backbone of this ancient canal gives to the uncertain form of the plain!". We see different things when we look at the same things. Perception is the result of comparing new information with one's own referents, which are a matrix of knowledge and values. The route to this knowledge and to establishing a hierarchy based on these values varies very much from one person to another. This is what gives the perceptive biases, such Gaspar Jaén, Jordi Sargatal's or my own. In all three cases they are elaborated biases which result from widespread reading and equally biased reflections. Nevertheless, for most people who avoid reconstructing perceptions, bias is not the result of personal choice but rather the flood of the media. The formerly fearful desert is now fascinating thanks to cinema, while the hyperborean freezing regions, from which we used to flee like the plague, captivates more and more people since they has been associated with comfortable clothes and cosy evenings around the fireplace. For many people, landscape evaluation depends on documentaries, films and advertisements. A well-constructed film on the epic process of building a high-voltage line through impenetrable, hostile forests would change one's perception of the electrical network and its impact on the landscape. And the same would go for the wind parks if they were shown in sweeping low-angled shots or turning in Wagnerian style in the atmosphere of a golden sunset. This all already happened with films which in the 50s and 60s exalted oil drilling, the eruptive derricks and off-shore platforms. Landscape is a socio-ecological algorism. And the mass media act as opinion makers also in this field. It would be fascinating to study the landscape they present as exemplary, and that which they consider pitiful. Public opinion - at least the opinions of the public, which in fact is another thing...- is configured from these media standards as in other times the literary standards were the great shapers of collective imagination. I don't like it much, but that's the way it is. We should therefore pay more attention. If not, it will be very difficult for us to value and appreciate the new post-industrial landscapes of the 21st century. Think about those related to capturing photovoltaic or wind energy, without going any further. Ramon Folch Doctor in biology, socio-ecologist Director general of ERF

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