KARDOmaximus aims to be the medium of expression of the Galician Territorial Observatory. Its contents will explore matters that affect Galicia (although not exclusively), while constantly seeking a perspective that is paradigmatic and of interest to other locations and situations. KARDOmaximus  is also aimed at reaching other types of audiences in these locations. Omnis locus universalitatem continent.

KARDO (Maximus) is the name of the main North-South axis that helped organise the territory of the Roman cities. But in Spanish, it is also the name of a plant (the thistle), which despite being edible and therefore useful, can prickle and irritate those who fail to take heed of it.


I. Country, Landscape, Territory

  The question of Territory and the Landscape is a widespread cause for concern in western countries, and especially so in the region of Galicia, in north-western Spain. We often see articles in the press on the all-to-frequent complaints or calls to attention originating with the public authorities, non-government organisations or private individuals in relation to practices that destroy urban, rural or natural landscapes, contaminate rivers and damage ecosystems on the coast or in the interior. An equally large number of conferences, public debates and specialised courses are organised on these complex and problematic issues. There is a public outcry in the face of changes considered undesirable, unnecessary or which are purely made for the purpose of speculation and to line the pockets of interested parties, faced with projects that they are almost entirely irreversible.

At this point it is well worth noting that the word “landscape” has its origins in “land”, the same way as learning comes from “learn”. In these words, the abstract concept of “land” or “learn” becomes a practical, physical reality.  “To learn” is abstract, but “to learn mathematics” is a very real, concrete idea. In the same way, “landscape” is the country in practice, made into a specific reality.

The landscape is a complete, sensual experience. When we walk through one of our villages we see the meadows, the houses and the woods with our sense of vision. Our sense of smell captures the aromas; our sense of hearing captures the gurgling of the streams, the barking of the dogs, the sound of distant voices. The homemade wine we sup in the village bar or the fruit we surreptitiously pick from the trees also connects us to the village, and we blissfully retain its taste in our memory. We feel the fresh country air on our skin. And even more senses come into play: we feel the pulse of nature and the magic of traditional country life; we feel the beauty of the local Baroque church or the old stone fountain covered in moss. The landscape is in every way the country in its real dimension, the country we feel with our physical and spiritual senses. For this reason, when people say “we’re destroying the country”, if we consider the countless assaults upon the landscape, then they are indeed stating the truth.

These are examples of the situation in rural areas, because it is only there that we can find all of the different elements we have mentioned. However, this is a much wider issue. Faced with one of these new so-called “dormitory towns” that surround our cities, including housing developments which often clash brutally with our landscape, we frequently feel the same repulsion and the same feeling of irreparable loss.

Obviously, there are times when the destruction of elements in the landscape can be considered as something positive. If we can no longer hear the friendly creaking of carts pulled by oxen, we have to admit that although it marks another lost memory of our childhood, fortunately people no longer go around in carts. And if anyone disagrees with “fortunately”, maybe they should go and chat to a few locals in the nearest village. So the process of appraising the landscape and the alterations it suffers is not as easy as we think, or free from commitments. The main commitment is to find a suitable balance between conserving and innovating, between the traditional and the essential aspects of modern life. Another closely related factor is our ecological commitment, something simple when we refer to an ecological agriculture that is conservationist and profitable, but tremendously complex when we ask the impossible (or at least impossible at this current moment in time), as we can hear statements such as: “why do we want a pristine beach if the minds of the people on it are decrepit, corrupted by an unsatisfactory life in a sick society? Wouldn’t it be better to start by purifying people’s spirits, and then getting to work on the beach, or at least doing both things at the same time?”

These broad brushstrokes are only aimed at showing how difficult it is to understand and evaluate the changes we are seeing, in order to define a strategy in our legitimate criticism of the destruction of the landscape, and our equally logical opposition to a “turbo-capitalist” reorganisation of the territory.

This situation of complex emergencies that are difficult to diagnose and treat has led to the creation of the Galician Territorial Observatory, part of the Centre for Advanced Studies of the University of Santiago de Compostela, composed of an interdisciplinary group of university professors and other professionals. The Observatory is an open forum, within which other groups or individuals can act with no links other than occasional collaborations. Its objectives require no further explanation.

  II. The Decision-taking process

 We are now living in a particularly opportune moment. The now outdated (yes, outdated) idea of the exclusive involvement of the public authorities, whose results are all too clear, is giving way to other ideas of how the territory should be managed. These new ideas are clearly expressed through the highly fashionable concept of “multi-governance”, meaning public governance from a wide variety of centres, departments and levels that are more specialised and more committed to their cause than the omnipotent central governments (even from their regional offices). In matters relating to the territory and the landscape, this modern trend becomes extraordinarily relevant.

Here are just a couple of simple examples. When a decision is made to design a Special Plan, the public authorities sometimes put it in the hands of an Urban Planning Studio, directed by a specific individual. Although there may be subsequent variations, taking into account the allegations of different affected parties, it will always be created on an established basis. The question we ask is, why were the affected parties not taken into account from the outset? Is it because they understand nothing at all, even though they know this territory better than anyone? Is it due to a distrust of their honesty, their ability to go beyond their immediate personal interests?

In turn, what possible sense is there in the competent authorities decreeing that the parapet of a window must be X centimetres wide? What is the point of this restriction? Perhaps none at all, as it is one thing to stipulate that a house has to be well ventilated and well lit, and another thing altogether to stipulate what each of its windows must be like. Professionals in the sector constantly complain of the excessive amount of regulations, which often result in what is seemingly trying to be avoided.

The essential, most urgent and difficult question is who has to take the decisions, how and where, that affect the territory and urban planning. Despite what others may think, it makes little sense that a single person, a mayor or a political party with the necessary votes can decide on the destiny of our landscapes and our villages, towns or cities. A short while back we heard how the two main political parties in Galicia were negotiating to create a territorial pact. A pact between politicians that affects the territory is nothing short of an atrocity. There can be few things as high on the list of personal and/or party interests and ideologies as territorial control and the actions that configure or alter the landscape.

  III. Landscape and Territory: Commonly Used Assets

 Conditions are now very favourable, at least in the West. In 2009, the Nobel Economy Prize was awarded to Professor Elinor Ostrom from the University of Indiana for her work on the use, management and enjoyment of commonly owned natural assets or resources. This prize came as a surprise to many people, because for the first time the award was not for a discovery that made companies more efficient, or to improve things like competitiveness and economic development, but instead for a study on ancestral, pre-capitalist microeconomic systems, which still operate in places like Ceylon, Turkey, Japan or Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The prize was based on the certainty that we can still learn a great deal from them, if we want a sustainable world, by means of intelligent, effective and satisfactory management.

The Territory and the Landscape are public property – communally used assets par excellence. In our context, the idea of “use” does not only refer to an active utilisation in order to produce something new, through one’s own initiative or the initiatives of others, but instead a passive use; in other words, suffering the consequences of any activity resulting from the use of these assets by others. A perfect example of this is the air or water: everyone who “uses” the air or water suffers the consequences of the actions of others in relation to the air or water, even thought they are far away. There can be no arguing that this is the case in our globally contaminated planet for more and more of the resources we all use, in one way or another.

Communal Use refers to the way something is used by a community as such. The concept and reality are crystal clear in traditional settings, such as the irrigation communities who use a spring, organise the way it is used and control it. But here we also have to extend and magnify the concept, as on our globally contaminated planet, the community of users (both active and passive) has gone far beyond any traditional frontiers, especially state frontiers, and of course the regional and local frontiers. The community of users of a power station that produces electricity are not the only ones who suffer in their more or less direct surroundings, but also all of those who make use of its electricity, and beyond this, all of those who suffer the consequences of the pollution it causes, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. All too frequently, the community of users could instead be referred to as a “community of affected parties”.

From this, we can deduce the following: 1) That the idea of communal use is not something that operates on a state level, nor coincides (or does not have to coincide) with the regional or local level, and for this reason the interests of the community of users will normally be trans-local, trans-regional or supranational. 2) That the idea of communal use has nothing to do with the private or public ownership of the assets that are used, nor does it presuppose or exclude one or the other.

The communal use (something unavoidably communal!) of the Territory and the Landscape at any spatial level requires that their organisation and management are adapted to the interests of the community of users, and not only to national, regional or local policies. It is undoubtedly both difficult and conflictive to define what these “community usage” interests are, but the generalised apprehension that exists in advanced societies with regard to the Territory and the Landscape shows that we have already made some progress in this direction. The European Union contributes towards this progress, for example through projects such as the “Natura 2000” Network. Numerous non-government organisations work in developing countries to help save natural habitats and resources, in many cases helping with human and technical development. A vast rainforest like the Amazon is a communally used asset that belongs to each and every one of us.

  IV. The Universal Value of the Landscape

 We need to ask ourselves: what is an asset, when we talk about the Territory and the landscape? The answer is clear: something that produces a benefit, which we therefore attribute a value. The benefit may vary greatly, in the same way as the value. We are already very familiar with concepts such as ecological, landscape, heritage, artistic and of course economic value, in the strict sense of “monetary value.” It is true that it is possible to make money out of all of them, but that is because there are people ready to pay a certain amount of money to enjoy these things for their intrinsic value: this is what happens in the tourism industry. And so, before “monetarising” this value, we, society, have to confer it this value. From then on, its value is real, whether it is monetarised or not.

In this case, the value of intangible heritage is paradigmatic. Before we “valorise” music, legends, popular wisdom and other such things, we have attributed a value to them, because we are convinced that they provide us with some type of benefit. It may be true that this belief is a question of culture and new sensitivities, but this is not important: many other values have only been understood with the passage of time. Landscape values are more consolidated, and increasingly appreciated.

If we consider the idea that things have (or may have) an intrinsic value (in terms of their use), an idea that was still quite usual just a couple of generations ago, together with the obvious fact that all of Planet Earth’s resources are limited, then we have to change our attitude towards built heritage. The notorious idea of “old is bad, only new is good” flies directly in the face of the sustainability of our surroundings. Every built object (buildings, infrastructures and the like) is a piece of constructive material, a repository of human work and knowledge. Our hopes with regard to recycling should reach this far, if permitted by their functionality.

In order to advance an intelligent, efficient programme for the correct use of communal resources, it is necessary to take decisions that will affect society as a whole. Together with, or in addition to the decision-making capacities of our politicians, “Perhaps a fourth power is needed, apart from the legislative, executive and judicial, which we could refer to as a power of instruction, knowledge and information, which would have the responsibility and independence to organise official findings and specialist reports, and in general, to produce and disseminate the necessary information for taking public decisions”.[1]

The users of the Territory have to participate in and take responsibility for the design and development of the interventions. Other consultative bodies need to be created, set apart from the authorities and the immediate interests of the users (this is a very important point), which can provide advice and effectively oversee the process from inter-disciplinary technical and scientific perspectives, with a broad perspective and that look towards the future

[1] F. Ascher, Diario de un hipermoderno (Madrid 2009) page 175.