Planning for change across landscape scales in Northern Portugal through the definition of ecological networks has proved to be a challenging exercise. The outputs produced between 2004 and 2009 by CIBIO, a research unit at the University of Porto, demonstrate the complementarities of landscape planning at the regional and metropolitan scales and between regional ecological networks for environmental protection and a metropolitan network of parks.
Through the five years of research, we were moved by the idea of providing solutions for better living in the ‘rural-urban compact’ where the Porto Metropolitan Area is embedded. Gutman (2007, pp. 385) defends that there is a need for a new rural-urban compact, “one that keeps delivering the food and fibres that the world needs, but at the same time is able to (a) improve the jobs and income opportunities of the rural population, (b) reduce the rural-urban divide, and (c) reverse the current trend of environmental degradation that is jeopardizing both people and nature”.
Ecological networks are understood as the basic landscape system governing the functioning of the natural dynamics, with specific aptitudes for human activities and having multiple yet complementary purposes, such as agro-forestry, conservation of natural and cultural heritage, leisure activities and tourism (Andresen et al, 2005). The concept of ecological networks has evolved significantly over the past 30 years since it emerged in the scope of nature conservation policies. In Portugal, the National Ecological Reserve (NER) was created, in 1983, with the purpose to safeguard the most fragile ecosystems, biological processes and landscape dynamics as stated in Decree Law 321/83: “to protect, in certain areas, the biophysical structure needed to operate resources and use the territory without deteriorating certain circumstances and capacities on which depend the stability and fertility of the regions, as well as the maintenance of many of its economic, social and cultural values”. NER is a concept inspired on the ideas of Caldeira Cabral (1908-1992), the founder o Portuguese landscape architecture who, through the 1960’s and ‘70s, promoted the idea of the continuum naturale.
The concept of ecological networks widened significantly worldwide and assumed an operational role in landscape planning studies. In the United States, it is also named as ‘greenways’. Julius Fabos (1995) referred to the ‘greenway movement’ as a new concept that integrates many established landscape architectural, planning and design ideas, concepts, and implementation techniques. Fabos (1995 and 2004) and Ahern (2002) place the origin of the concept in the United States with “the urban park systems” of the early days of landscape architecture at the end of the 19th century. Nowadays, it is recognised that in landscape planning greenways have evolved towards a multipurpose approach: “Greenways are systems and/or networks of protected lands that are managed for multiple uses including: nature protection, biodiversity, management, water resources, recreation, and cultural/historic resource protection.” (Ahern. 2002, p. 2).
The purpose of this paper is to present an exercise for the Northern Region of Portugal on landscape planning at three different levels - from regional to metropolitan - driven by the concept of ecological networks. This experience became an opportunity to explore the significance of the concept and the connections with landscape functions. It called for a permanent adequateness of the database and a sound acquaintance with the landscape.
"Ecological networks: from regional to metropolitan strategies. The Northern Region of Portugal and Oporto Metropolitan Area,"
Proceedings of the Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning: Vol. 3:
1, Article 77.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/fabos/vol3/iss1/77
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