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Shifting forms of landscape governance: environmental policy, spatial planning and place branding strategies

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Abstract

This paper analyses the evolution of landscape governance in three Flemish regions to discern the virtues of different forms of environmental policy, spatial planning, and place branding. In all three regions state led policies and comprehensive planning efforts were gradually complemented and replaced by more participatory planning approaches and place branding strategies that use the landscape as a frame for coordinating land use activities and development. The study shows that place branding strategies can be a useful addition to other policy instruments and strategies. A focus on place identity and value creation can help in reconciling the various environmental, social, and economic interests. The study also shows that policies, plans and place brands that are developed outside a political context that is experienced as legitimate and inclusive by the different stakeholders are more difficult to implement and might in the long run undermine landscape governance.
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WORKING PAPERS IN EVOLUTIONARY GOVERNANCE THEORY
Please cite as: Van Assche, K, & Beunen, R. (2017) Shifting forms of landscape governance: environmental policy, spatial
planning and place branding strategies. Working papers in evolutionary governance theory, International Institute for
Innovation in Governance, Wageningen.
More articles can be found on the website governancetheory.com
Shifting forms of landscape governance: environmental policy,
spatial planning and place branding strategies
Kristof Van Assche1 & Raoul Beunen2
1 Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; 2 Faculty of Management, Science and Technology, Open University, Heerlen
Abstract This paper analyses the evolution of landscape governance in three Flemish regions to discern
the virtues of different forms of environmental policy, spatial planning, and place branding. In all three
regions state led policies and comprehensive planning efforts were gradually complemented and
replaced by more participatory planning approaches and place branding strategies that use the
landscape as a frame for coordinating land use activities and development. The study shows that place
branding strategies can be a useful addition to other policy instruments and strategies. A focus on place
identity and value creation can help in reconciling the various environmental, social, and economic
interests. The study also shows that policies, plans and place brands that are developed outside a
political context that is experienced as legitimate and inclusive by the different stakeholders are more
difficult to implement and might in the long run undermine landscape governance.
Keywords landscape protection, governance, spatial planning, place branding, rural development.
Highlights
Strategies and approaches to landscape governance need to be adapted to changing societal
demands and shifting opportunities for planning and policy making.
Selection of instruments and strategies follows from changing views on the landscape, its issues and
its possible future.
Place branding is a useful addition to existing instruments and approaches as it fosters the inclusion
and integration of different perspectives and interest into a coherent frame on the landscape and its
future development
1. Introduction
In many regions the landscape is valued for its particular qualities like openness, beauty, the
presence of endangered species and habitats and cultural heritage (Penker, 2009). These qualities often
constitute an important asset for economic activities such as recreation and tourism. At the same time
the protection and management of these qualities might be challenging due to shifts in agricultural use,
urban development, or tourism activities (Tassinari et al., 2013; Hernik et al., 2013; Oliveira, 2014).
Governing such landscapes thus implies dealing with the regularly conflicting goals of conservation and
development (Bell and Stockdale, 2015; Swaffield and Primdahl, 2014; Hofstad et al., 2014 Dinnie et al.,
2012). Landscape governance requires balancing and weighting the different interest, perspectives and
activities. Traditionally governmental organisations were the pivotal players in landscape governance,
taking the lead in coordinating the different land use activities and designing and implementing a wide
range of policies, laws and comprehensive plans that help in protecting, managing and developing
landscapes. In the last decades the role of governmental organizations has gradually changed and
increasingly attention is given to participatory and privately initiated forms of governance (Owley and
Rissman, 2016; Horlings and Kanemasu, 2015; Ferranti et al., 2014; Sevenant and Antrop, 2010; Van
Assche et al., 2011). These shifts in governance are reflected in the strategies and instruments that
actors are using to govern landscapes. Traditional forms of landscape governance are complemented
and replaced with new forms that focus on participatory forms of planning, public-private partnerships,
and place branding strategies (e.g. Oliveira, 2016; De Vries et al., 2015; Mehnen et al., 2013; Woodland
and Acott, 2007).
Despite political commitment to landscape protection and sustainable development, as for example
reflected in the European Landscape convention, the actual application in planning and decision-making
practices often proves to be difficult (Pedroli et al., 2013; Cochrane, 2010, Mickwitz and Kivimaa, 2007).
Furthermore empirical studies that explain how various forms of governance relate to each other and in
their interplay contribute to the sustainable development of landscapes are rare (Swaffield and
Primdahl, 2014; Erkuş-Öztürk and Eraydın, 2010). This paper addresses this gap by discerning the virtues
of different forms of environmental policy, spatial planning, and place branding in the evolution of
landscape governance and to reflect on the community benefits and environmental outcomes that
these form of governance have produced. It does so by analysing the way in which different instruments
and strategies have been used to coordinate land use activities and developments in three different
regions in Flanders, Belgium. Particular attention is given to the role of place branding strategies, as a
more recent form of landscape governance that has so far gained little attention in scientific research
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(Oliveira, 2016). Although the branding of regions is recently gaining traction in the literature on place
branding (Hornskov, 2007; Hanna and Rowley, 2008; Kalandides et al., 2011; Van Assche et al., 2015),
little attention has been paid to the role regional branding can play in the protection, management and
sustainable development of landscapes.
2. Shifting forms of landscape governance
For this study landscape governance is broadly defined as the taking of collectively binding decisions
considering the landscape, its use and its development Beunen et al., 2015. This perspective
acknowledges that many actors, both public and private, are involved in these decision-making
processes and that a wide range of instruments and strategies can be used to coordinate the policies
and practices that influence the landscape. In many situations landscape governance implies dealing
with competing claims and with potentially conflicting land use activities. Much attention has for
example been given to the protection of open space against the processes of urbanization, the tensions
between agriculture use and nature conservation or managing the impact of tourism activities in
vulnerable landscapes (Beunen and van Assche, 2013). These tensions not only relate to the spatial and
natural conditions of a particular place, but just as much to the various perspectives and understandings
that actors hold. Landscape is this perspective not only refers to the naturalspatial conditions of a
particular place, but also as an object of social production as well as the (Görg, 2007; Antrop, 1997).
Landscapes are constituted in multiplicities of narratives that are in constant transformation, a process
that is sometimes and for certain purposes stabilized by means of institutions and organizations (e.g.
Zimmerbauer and Paasi, 2013; Manning, 2010, Cavanaugh, 2007, Dzenovska, 2005.
The literature on landscape governance, environmental protection and land use planning has
elaborated on the many different instruments and strategies can be used to govern landscapes
(Bengston et al., 2004; Liekens et al., 2013; De Montis, 2014; Hernik et al., 2016; van Dijk and Beunen,
2009). Well known examples include a wide range of environmental policies, laws protecting species,
habitats and cultural heritage, and a multitude of plans and projects aiming to restore natural and
cultural elements and structures. More recently place branding strategies are added to this repertoire.
Place branding refers to the construction and dissemination of images and narratives of place that can
enable stable value creation (Hildreth, 2010; Anholt, 2009; Van Assche et al., 2015). Place branding
strategies are for example used to promote regions, landscapes, or national parks. The use of place
branding strategies is regularly subject of debate. Various authors are critical about the rapid
commodification of natural and cultural heritage and its related unilateral focus on economic
development (Van Assche et al., 2015). Yet others have shown that branding strategies can indeed be a
useful means to work on sustainable development (Oliveira, 2016). Place branding strategies are an
effective ways to cultivate and develop spatial identities and a sense of place in landscape governance.
Oliveira for example argues that “[a shared place] ... would simplify cooperation among regional actors,
to reach agreements on core values, aims and visions for the region, and on how to operationalize
them” (2016 p. 196). Place branding strategies can complement and enrich existing forms of policy and
planning, in the mapping and creation of assets, the promotion of landscape preservation, and for the
production of place identities that could lead to more intense, efficient and stable value creation in the
region (Roseland, 2000; Mathie and Cunningham, 2003). A stronger regional brand and the associated
value creation might make it easier to engage various actors in environmental governance and integrate
their perspectives in policies and plans (Cavanaugh, 2007; Van Assche and Lo, 2011). Combining
planning and branding strategies fits well with the concept of landscape governance, as both spatial
planning and place branding pay attention to the physical appearance of the place as well as to the role
of narratives on the identity of that place (Duineveld et al., 2017.
Landscape governance needs to be adaptive as social and environmental circumstances are changing
all the time (Folke et al., 2005; Beunen et al., 2017). New issues emerge and societal perspectives shift,
as do political support and available resources, therewith continuously shifting the possibilities and
limits for the protection and development of landscapes (Van Assche et al., 2014b). Although the forms
of governance are thus always evolving, the introduction of new instruments and approaches is not
always easy and the effects of earlier policies and plans can last for some time. Actors, organizations,
institutions and also landscape assets can be seen as embodying path dependencies structuring
governance evolution (Czarniawska, 2014; Pender et al., 2004). Once coordination takes place along
certain lines and using certain policies or plans (institutions), and certain actors (organizations) have a
role in the process, their interplay of perspectives (narratives) will tend to uncover certain qualities as
‘assets’ and see certain, and not other, patterns in their recombination that offer ‘development
potential’ (cf. Dzenovska, 2005; Van Assche et al., 2016). Once certain assets dominate discourses in
landscape governance, the actors and rules geared towards their management and development tend
to remain in place (Thomas, 2003; Pike et al., 2007; Kooij, 2014; Duineveld et al., 2013). From the same
principles follows a destabilizing counterforce. Actors can use and change narratives and rules to
improve their positions in governance and further their goals (Throgmorton, 1996; Hillier, 2002). Since
the effects of these changes cannot be predicted, as all interactions in all directions cannot be mapped
out, new assets and new potential can emerge that benefits other actors and shifts governance in a
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different direction again (Luhmann, 1989). All this implies that the virtues of different instruments and
strategies for landscape governance are highly context-dependent and should be understood as being
part of larger shifts in governance, in which actors, institutions and narratives are continuously changing
(Van Assche et al., 2014a).
3. Method
Belgium offers an interesting context to study the shifting forms of landscape governance and the
use of different instruments and strategies. The country has a long tradition of landscape governance,
with landscapes gaining attention in the policies and practices, while the different regions within the
country have each developed and applied a diverse set of approaches that are worth comparing
(Sevenant and Antrop, 2010; De Mets, 2006; Antrop, 1997). A case study approach was used to explore
the shifting forms of landscape governance and to identify the virtues of different instruments and
strategies. Three different regions in Belgium were selected: 1) the Flemish Ardennes, south of Ghent in
the province of East- Flanders, 2) Westhoek, in West- Flanders near the French border, and 3) the
Zwinstreek, in the same province between Bruges and the North Sea coast. In all three regions the
landscape is considered an important asset for regional development, but the regions differ in their
development trajectories and in the reasons for working toward integrative forms of landscape
governance. The regions also differ in history, landscape, economic assets and in institutional,
organisational and narrative aspects of community. A comparison between the strategies used in the
different regions allows for a better understanding of the contextual factors that influence the choice
and potential effects of different forms of landscape governance.
For all three case areas the trajectory of landscape governance since ca. 1970 was reconstructed using a
literature study and interviews with key actors. Particular attention was given to the actors most
strongly involved in landscape governance, the institutions that shaped their interactions, and the
narratives about the development of the region that were put forward. For each region the changing
pattern of coordination was mapped out and the most important community benefits and
environmental outcomes were identified. The study draws upon 31 in- depth interviews, document
analysis and field observations. Interviews were carried out with local politicians, environmental activists
and experts, heritage experts, tourism promoters and entrepreneurs, people at provincial
administrations, historians, and planners. The interviewees were selected for their role and influence in
regional tourism and for their historical knowledge about the region. The interviews were semi-
structured and took between one and three hours.
For the document analysis relevant policy documents and reports related to landscape governance as
well as scientific reports and papers about these areas were collected and analysed. The documents and
the interviews were coded for concepts of landscape governance, tourism development, regional
identity, policy integration, conservation, planning, place branding, community benefits, and
environmental outcomes. The different forms of data collection were used to triangulate the findings
and to reconstruct the evolution of landscape governance, the use of different instruments and
strategies, as well as the outcomes these produced. These reconstructions were discussed with key
experts to assess their validity and to fill in some gaps.
4. Results
4.1 Flemish Ardennes
The Flemish Ardennes (Vlaamse Ardennen) received that name in the late 19th century from Flemish
romantic nationalists who appreciated the scenic hilly landscape. The name is a reference to the
Ardennes, a famous area in the southern part of Belgium. The Flemish Ardennes are marked by
sandstone hills, remainders of an old seabed, and the hilltops are clad with old beech forest (Verhulst,
1964). The landscape has been cultivated since Roman times and intensively since the 12th century
(Tack et al., 1993). Small mixed farms, patches of woodland, creeks, watermills and hedgerows provide a
landscape structure quite unique in Flanders.
Omer Wattez, a local teacher and writer, explored the area extensively on foot, and wrote a
guidebook (De Vlaamse Ardennen, 1890) that was received well by critics and audiences in the early
20th century (Van Den Bossche, 1984). It was however a highway project (the A9) in the early 1970’s
that catapulted Wattez and the name ‘Vlaamse Ardennen’ to wider renown. Most actors in the area
opposed the project, often referring to the unique landscape qualities that would be damaged by the
road. The image of a landscape unity already existed in the region, as did the idea of this landscape as a
marker of identity and a community asset. But the resistance against the highway project made it known
in the rest of the country.
In 1972 the Omer Wattez foundation (now Milieufront) was founded. This foundation galvanised and
coordinated the resistance, using an inclusive approach towards local players, and advertising the
qualities of the Vlaamse Ardennen in various media. The foundation vowed to protect landscape, nature
and culture in the region. National politics responded to pressure by abolishing the highway project and
foundation Omer Wattez continued working on promoting the region and focusing attention on various
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environmental, heritage and tourism issues. In the 70’s, the foundation was actively involved in the
drafting of the ‘Gewestplannen’, a typically Belgian combination of a regional plan and a highly detailed
prescriptive local land use plan (see e.g. Van Den Broeck et al., 2010). This gave them the opportunity to
insert forms of protection for various sites. A continued alliance with more topically focused nature
organisations helped the latter to acquire over time ca. 600 hectares of land and benefited both
organisations in negotiations with other stakeholders.
An offspring of Omer Wattez was the Regional Landscape Flemish Ardennes (Regional Landscape), a
non- governmental non- profit organisation (established 1985) that represented an attempt to
institutionalise regional cooperation. Starting from an initial focus on landscape protection, over time
more actors were included: first farmers, later tourism actors, finally local governments. The Regional
Landscape became slowly more representative of all the interests in the region and offered the
possibility of regional policy integration. This only happened to a limited extent, because the Landscape
had a ‘dark green’ image and trust levels with some of the newly included actors were low to modest.
Among the now included municipalities, some favoured a highly local approach; others were in favour of
more regional cooperation and a significant role for the Landscape.
After two decades the Province took over the organisation, with the benefit of greater financial
resources, but an effective neutralisation of its role as an environmental lobby group. In 2011 the
Province stood for ca. 50% of finances, but since 2013 the Province is fully responsible. The province also
expanded the territory of the Regional Landscape significantly (an increase from 6 to 17 municipalities)
to include a number of small rural municipalities with a very different political orientation. This further
undermined the status of the Regional Landscape as regional power broker. For some of the green
players, it became a lame duck organisation, slowly reduced to a provider of trees and hedges and cheap
labour to plant them to ‘embellish’ the landscape. A regional vision was and is one bridge too far. While
the influence of this Regional Landscape in the Flemish Ardennes was thus reduced, it was successful in
the sense that it became an inspiration for a Flemish regional landscape policy, where, under a 1997
decree, now 13 Regional Landscapes are established (see e.g. Antrop and Van Damme, 1995; Van
Eetvelde et al., 2008).
Inspired by the growing name recognition of the area, the Province of East Flanders decided to
devolve tourism promotion efforts to the region in 2000. Tourism Flemish presented a regional vision for
tourism development (for 2009-12) that is quite comprehensive and can be regarded as a regional plan.
Landscape quality is seen as a major asset for tourism development, tourism as one of the main
economic drivers of the area, and a perceived lack of regional spatial policy integration seems to have
prompted them to fill in the gap and present their own vision. The regional tourism organisation is
active in the Regional Landscape and also works on supra- local coordination by itself. They do hit some
of the same obstacles as the Regional Landscape and the elements of the vision that bear directly on
local planning and local economic development are harder to implement. Regional cooperation under
the label ‘tourism’ seems easier than under the label ‘planning’.
The tourism organisation and the Regional Landscape both try to work on the branding of the area.
There is a strong awareness that the landscape character is a major asset in the region, that this
character depends on a fine- grained spatial structure, and that new activities should be selected and
located in such a way that they don’t detract from landscape quality and cohesion. Both organisations
refer to the efforts in the Westhoek region (see below) as a model for cooperation, with a tradition of
flexible public- private partnerships to be emulated.
Meanwhile, the Flemish government has devolved more planning responsibilities to the
municipalities in the last decade, but kept power close for certain topics. One of them is heritage, with
the Heritage Service (Dienst Erfgoed) responsible for historical landscapes, buildings and monuments. In
the Heritage Service, the Flemish Ardennes are considered unique, and in the recent Flemish Landscape
Atlas (an instrument proposed by Marc Antrop in the early nineties -see Van Eetvelde et al., 2008), a
large part of the region (ca. 80%) was indicated as relic zone. These are areas where the historical
landscape is still recognisable. Most protected there are the ‘landscape anchors’, meaning that the
valued historical structure of the landscape can be preserved by means of priority conservation of these
anchors. Each new local development plan has to follow a unique set of stipulations for each anchor.
The Heritage Service also partly funds the Regional Landscape. Private nature organisations bought
many parcels, often within the same landscape structures considered valuable by other conservation-
minded actors. The official delineation of the most valuable fragments in ecological valuation maps
(‘ecologische waardenkaart’, by the National Agency for Nature Conservation), was done by and relied
on the detailed knowledge of the same people that are also active in the regional environmental and
heritage organisations.
Thus, while there is no regional plan, no fully functional regional planning or place branding or, more
broadly, policy integration arena, there are organisations where the region can be envisioned as a
whole, and external actors (Flemish government, nature organisations) acted in a way that benefitted
asset mapping and preservation. It seems likely that the brand “Flemish Ardennes” that was developed
since the seventies significantly shaped the political decision- making at higher levels and increased
tourism revenues. Another driving factor in this process of policy integration seems to be that a network
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of people with a shared concern for the regional landscape, a deep local knowledge and strong local,
regional and national networks has been active in different roles for several decades now. This is also
the period that Flemish planning, nature conservation and heritage policies became more substantial
and institutionalised, and people familiar with these new powers, made their access to or understanding
of them useful for local and regional issues they cared about.
The threats to the landscape character in the area have shrunk significantly and many villages have
escaped the sprawl that marks so much of Flanders. The institutional arrangement however does seem
fragile. First of all because local politics is so fragmented and in some cases under control of a small
group of constituents that even the sum of the convergent policies and actions mentioned might not
prevent a disfiguring of the valued landscape structure. Second, the complex pattern of policy
convergence does not create the impression of a democratic process, of local actors deliberating
regionally and coming to a consensus. This ties in with the first issue, as it tends to polarise local politics.
Thirdly, the landscape as asset might be relatively well protected and well promoted, but the way it
came about led to a quite static frame. The result of the policy integration is mostly landscape
protection with limitations on new activities and developments, but there are few institutions and
organisations that can enable a continuous reflection on and revision of landscape governance. In 2015
the Belgium government decided that in order to reduce the negative impact of agricultural activities on
nature areas protected under European Union legislation, a large number of farmers had to reduce their
emission, while others were forced to stop their business in due time. This plan evoked a lot of protest
amongst the farmers and put the different parties more against each other.
4.2 Westhoek
The Westhoek was not known for landscape qualities until recently. The Belgian coast has been
developed for tourism since the early 19th century, but the western part of the hinterland, the
Westhoek was seen as relatively poor agricultural backwater (Anon., 1955; Hardeman, 1971; De Mets,
2006). The name ‘Westhoek’ was widespread a few centuries ago already, but at least in the 20th
century it did not represent a strong brand. Scientific studies in the 1950’s and early 60’s showed the
area as lagging behind in many indicators of economic development. In 1962, a first development plan
was proposed (De Mets, 2009). This was the starting point of a long series of plans and from 1987 on
European- funded strategies and projects. The focus of the national and European infusions was
industrial and residential development in the urban centres and highway construction, as isolation was
identified as one of the major issues (Metdepenningen, 2011). Much was also expected from the
development of coastal tourism (Haulot et al., 1977; Charlier, 2005). Public investment since that time
contributed to the narrowing of the gap, until it disappeared in the 1990’s (Thissen et al., 2005; De Mets,
2006). By that time, Flanders had been developed quite densely, a planning apparatus had been
developed, and the Westhoek, a polder landscape with clay soils, became interesting for its open space.
The open agricultural landscape slowly became an asset.
There are various forms of regional cooperation. In the Westhoek, a non- governmental initiative in a
sub- region, Westvlaams Heuvelland (West Flemish Hill Country) proved influential. In the 1960s, a
number of people came together and started a local tradition of community development that is
explicitly broader than spatial planning and economic policy and that aspires to facilitate bottom-up
initiatives and flexible coordination. According to all accounts (interviews and e.g. Vantygem, 2009, De
Mets, 2006), Jan Hardeman took a leading role. He laid the foundation of what would become a network
of community organisations (see also Hardeman, 1971). He learned from the Netherlands, where
regional development strategies already took off in the 1920’s. At the same time the government-
controlled Dutch schemes also irked him. He was attracted by the sensibilities of American traditions of
local development that were more inclusive and participatory in nature. His group promoted and
organised community theatre and out of the movement came a folk music festival (Vantygem, 2009)
and a poetry festival (Mandelinck, 1979).
In this case branding was not an explicit goal, while planning interventions were on the repertoire:
renovation policies, beautification of streets, the development of new public spaces, and the
introduction of environmental regulations. There was a clear interest in local and regional identity from
the start on, but mainly as a manner to create internal cohesion and from there on new capabilities to
reflect and to formulate appropriate visions. Noticing that young people had little knowledge about the
decisive importance of the area in World War I, they organised a project (1977) where youngsters
interviewed elderly people who remembered the war, leading to a 1978 book (‘Van den Grooten
Oorlog’) that in turn was intensely promoted and discussed in the area. The project was seen as a
contribution to a reinvention of social memory and with that, identity (cf. Winter, 2009).
Later, the Province (West Flanders) decided to facilitate imitations of the Westhoek model. Powers
were not devolved to municipalities, but provincial outposts were established in a number of regions,
including Westhoek, and many provincial policies were integrated per region. This was called
‘Gebiedsgerichte werking’ (Houthaeve, 2007; De Mets, 2006; Albrechts et al., 1999). The new provincial
department in the Westhoek brought local knowledge and actors closer to provincial policies and plans,
and provided a forum and incentives for local actors to cooperate and to envision the unity and shared
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interests of the region. The incentives to cooperate were provision of technical expertise and help with
securing financing at provincial and national levels, and through EU grants (De Mets, 2009).
The same structure of a decentralised province that engaged in coordination between local
governmental actors made for a smooth fit between provincial spatial planning and local planning
efforts. The province planned large scale residential, industrial and commercial developments largely
outside the Westhoek (De Mets, 2009, Charlier, 2005). Regional planning was thus partly defined from
the outside, but most inside actors agreed on an identity narrative that precluded large scale
developments anyway, rather emphasising a more diverse rural landscape (De Mets, 2006; interviews).
No actual regional plan materialised, but strong policy convergences came from coordination between
local initiatives and higher- level policies. According to most respondents the habit to work with
different combinations of stakeholders under different procedural conditions became a powerful and
self- reinforcing tradition (cf. Albrechts et al., 1999). In branding matters, the provincial department
coordinated with another organisation that was devolved from the Province in 2001: Westtoer.
Westtoer was previously the tourism department of the province, but was turned into a semi-
autonomous organisation, financially independent and with more authority to develop initiatives. Of
significant importance for the branding of the Westhoek was the decision of Westtoer to delineate
Westhoek as one of the four regions it would promote separately. That made alliances possible between
Westtour and the provincial department and enabled further policy integration within the same spatial
frame. Westtour tries to use the same flexible community development approach as the province
(Westtoer, 2007; interviews). Its department in Westhoek promotes some of the provincial initiatives-
e.g. relating to living and working there. One of the success stories of Westtoer and its partnerships are
the cycling and hiking networks, drawn together with various local experts and entrepreneurs
(Westtoer, 2007; Westtoer, 2009).
The commemoration of World War I (1914-18) is projected to bring several millions of visitors to this
area where many of the key battles took place (Westtoer, 2008). This prospect spurred private
investment and it spurred Flemish investment, as Flanders sees it as an opportunity to polish its own
brand internationally and believes the projected benefits warrant extra investment now. Westtoer
developed a guiding vision for investment that helps to develop the commemoration as one product and
that can enable visitors to connect to the events -without being too appalled (cf. Winter, 2009)
The specific history of the area, the history of four years of fighting in the Westhoek emerged as a
major asset. The landscape is appreciated by many visitors most of all because of its association with the
Great War. This was made possible because the tourist perspective was already important in a network
and a tradition of regional cooperation and development. New investments catalysed by the war
commemoration are in turn catalysed to places and projects that have potential because of the prior
existence of the same networks and coordination mechanisms.
4.3 Zwinstreek
The Zwinstreek (Zwin area) was more known as a unity eight centuries ago then it is now. The area
between Bruges and the coast was from the 12th to the 17th centuries a slowly silting up and shrinking
sea arm, surrounded by tidal marshes and mudflats (Verhulst, 1964). After the sea transgression of
1134, the new sea arm came very close to Bruges, and this significantly helped the development of this
town of merchants and financiers (Ryckaert and Vandewalle, 1999). Already during the heydays of
Bruges, local communities worked on land reclamation and created settlements and polders in a pattern
of dykes, canals, now isolated inlets and ridges that is still recognisable today (Strobbe, 1983; Ryckaert,
1985 Ryckaert, 1985). After the sea arm silted up so much that Bruges declined and certainly after the
secession of the Netherlands from the Habsburg empire, the Zwin area became marginal in the socio-
economic constellation of the larger region (Charlier, 2005).
After the reinvention of Bruges as a tourist town in the 19th century and the tourist development of
the Belgian coast, the Zwin region was slowly forgotten as a region. The old landscape patterns are still
there, but neither narratives nor organisations or institutions embody a regional unity. Nowadays,
people in Belgium know the Zwin as a coastal nature reserve. They are not aware that the actual Zwin is
the tiny inlet still there and they don’t connect that landscape relic with the old sea arm that granted
access to Bruges and made it important (interviews). For the same reason, people do not recognise the
other landscape patterns, not even the straight line of settlements stretching north- east from Bruges,
from Damme to Sluis and St Anna ter Muide. All these were once harbours for Bruges on the now
vanished sea arm (Charlier, 2005).
Bruges is successful as a tourist destination and the Zwin (the natural reserve) is, at least in Belgium,
a known destination. Furthermore the presence of largely preserved landscapes in between makes the
history more visible and more impressive. This offers possibilities to present the whole as one major
new asset and to integrate new developments in the historical landscape structure. This was an idea
that was already presented by Haulot et al. in, 1977, who argued for a broadening of the tourist base by
‘luring’ people into the historically interesting polders.
Still, it did not happen. The social forgetting of the region as a unity is obviously a factor (cf. Winter,
2009). If local residents do not share narratives designating the area as a unity, it is hard and
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questionable to start policy integration in the frame of that ‘region’. Secondly, the recent history of the
area brought large scale infrastructure to the area, canals pertaining to the harbour of Zeebruges and
highways, making it harder to experience the historical structure of the landscape. A third reason is that
institutionalisation happened along different lines. For Westtoer, the coast and the surroundings of
Bruges are considered subregions to be promoted, but not the Zwin area (Westtoer, 2007). Also, the
province does not have a dedicated department for community development there, as in Westhoek. A
fourth reason we can discern is the position of Bruges.
Bruges is, according to our respondents, not much interested in its old region in terms of tourism
development. Even Damme, very nearby, and for centuries intimately connected, is barely promoted in
Bruges tourism policies. In the perspective of Bruges, apparently not much is to be gained from more
intensive regional cooperation and product development. From what we could gather, there are
concerns about a tourist overload in the city itself and simultaneous concerns about drawing the people
who stay overnight away from the city. The argument that all could benefit from the development of a
stronger regional product and of policy integration in the frame of the Zwin area is not persuasive in this
context.
There are modest attempts to reinvent and disseminate a regional narrative and to look for new
ways to institutionalise it in tourism policies. There are for example attempts to map, protect and
connect assets. The mayors of the municipalities in the area (including the Dutch municipality of Sluis)
meet on a monthly basis and discuss shared problems and possible synergies (interviews). A cross-
border regional network of 17 museums and heritage organisations tries to revive the narrative of a
shared and glorious history, visible in the landscape. The municipality of Knokke often takes the lead in
regional initiatives. One of the reasons is the fact that since about ten years, tourists want more than
the beach, want to experience the hinterland on foot and by bike, so this experience needs to be made
interesting (Westtoer, 2007; Westtoer, 2009, interviews). Another reason is that ‘Zwin’ is most strongly
associated with the natural reserve on the territory of Knokke, so from the perspective of that city, the
‘new’ Zwin region will naturally have Knokke as its core. For Knokke, an upscale resort town, regional
policy integration is fine as long as the brand name ‘Knokke’ is safeguarded (see e.g. Knokke-Heist, 2010;
Lannoy, 1993)
The Province and the Flemish government decided to cooperate on planning and branding for a
expanded Zwin (Herrier and Leten, 2010) that will offer new opportunities for both tourism and nature
conservation. That process proved a catalyst for new regional thinking. Biking networks will be improved
and extended and the story of a regional history will be disseminated by all partners in the Zwin
expansion project. A separate EU funded project (INTERREG) is responsible for the ‘Zwinstreek’ website,
linked to the Knokke Museum and its ‘Pearl’ network and intending to present the area as a unity, a
unity with potential.
The Zwin region also benefitted from indirect environmental policy integration with regard to asset
mapping and protection. A series of INTERREG projects were beneficial in this regard. The projects
mapped and analysed natural and cultural heritage and led to visions for its preservation, linkage and
promotion. It started in 1995 with a study of the ecological and historical values of isolated relics of old
sea inlets, leading to an integrated regional water management plan in 1997 to preserve them. From
1997 to 2001, implementation via various projects followed. From 2000 to 2002, studies were
conducted leading to a regional recreation plan, while in 2003 a study and plan for the structure of
historical dykes was produced. In 2004, study of the 16-17th century military heritage followed, which is
now leading to restoration of some of the forts and engineering works (for these and associated
documents: ftp://ftp.west-vlaanderen.be/publiek/).
The people involved in the series of studies and visioning projects were largely the same and their
networks gradually improved. Each new study and project could effectively build on the previous one.
They could cover one topic and scale after the other and many of the outcomes could be translated into
provincial and Flemish policies. That also meant that the accumulated effects of all the projects come
close to the effects of a comprehensive plan taking the landscape as a first ordering principle, without
having such a plan. In 2008, the province of West Flanders and the Dutch province of neighbouring
Zeeland, together with the municipalities of Knokke and Sluis, worked with the engineering and planning
firm Grontmij and produced a vision with new ideas within a new frame (Grontmij, 2008). The existing
plans, two sides of the border, are said to be realigned and reinterpreted for the Zwin area.
These plans and policies envision the historical landscape structure as a major asset for tourism
development. The next provincial spatial plan in West Flanders is scheduled to incorporate insights and
concepts from these studies and thematic plans. This provincial plan will in turn further delineate the
planning options for the municipalities. Slowly increasing awareness with many actors and slowly
increasing demand with tourists are expected to make environmental governance gradually more
feasible. At this point however, not much can be predicted, as the inflexible elements of policy
(prohibition, protection) are much earlier in place than shared identity narratives, regional organisations
and institutions that can bring about the flexible and locally supported side of environmental policy
integration.
15
5. Comparing the cases
In all three regions the focus on sustainable tourism in the region has triggered landscape restoration
and conservation. None of the three has a regional government and none of them has a regional
planning administration. None of them has a regional comprehensive plan that is supposed to guide
future development. All three have used branding strategies, strongly linked to tourism development. In
all three regions, the landscape is considered as a major asset that needs protection and that has the
potential to guide future development. Tourism or the promise of tourism was a catalyst for
cooperation and coordination, for asset mapping, asset protection and asset combination. In all three
regions, however, tourism is a recent phenomenon. Tourism was an outcome of older configurations,
e.g. broader economic development efforts in Westhoek, and a driver for new shifts. The same applies
to nature conservation. In the Flemish Ardennes initial concern for landscape and nature translated in
activism, branding, and policy integration that (indirectly) led to nature conservation, landscape
protection and tourism development. The cases also show that once tourism perspectives are
disseminated among many actors, this is pushing governance in the direction of that perspective, e.g.
advocated by the regional tourism organizations. In the Flemish Ardennes, the Regional Landscape was
in the beginning ambitious as a platform for tourism development and policy integration, aspiring to
become a place where sustainable visions for the future of the region could be produced. Yet it was not
perceived as truly inclusive and too focused on environmental issues by some actors. After the province
took over the organisation it was politically neutralised, but it also made it less relevant as a place of
deal- making. Once that took place, the attention of local politicians for the organisation diminished, and
‘green’ actors lost trust in regional planning as such. They started to pursue their own goals and, partly
because of the success of older branding strategies, it worked. The sum of their actions led to a rather
rigid form of landscape protection, reducing the opportunities for balancing conservation and tourism
development. Zwinstreek offers similar observations in this regard. While both in Zwinstreek and
Vlaamse Ardennen the historical landscape structure emerged in the crystallizing regional governance as
a major asset, and while it seems to be well protected as a result of convergent policies and strategies,
there seem to be serious risks. When there are choice moments for institutional (re-) design these ought
to be grasped, as these new starting points are likely to resonate for a long time. Once a certain
perspective is institutionalized and anchored in organizations, the pattern of transformation will
probably be marked by such power/knowledge configuration for a long time.
In the path of governance in Zwinstreek and Vlaamse Ardennen many actions of state and non- state
actors converged into policies (heritage plans in one case, a partial revision of the provincial spatial plan
in the other case) that present an integrated perspective on regional tourism. These policies aim to
develop tourism, protect environmental assets, link them into a potentially valuable whole, and partly
integrate these with branding strategies that can create more value in the future and thus stabilise the
situation. According to some of the actors however, too much emphasis is given to protection and they
consider this a potential treat to further developments. This shows the importance of participatory
governance. If landscape governance, even with positive effects, takes place largely outside the context
of inclusive settings of political deliberation, reflexivity and thus adaptation are at stake (Ellis & Biggs,
2001; Pike et al, 2007). This also reduces democratic legitimacy. In two Flemish cases, the focus on asset
preservation that proved successful made it harder to envision a future where other goals count and
perspectives can be reconsidered and recombined.
Westhoek offers a different model. Perceived under- development triggered action and what did
emerge, largely as a result of contingent events, strong leadership and tight networks (cf. Lambert,
2006), was participatory community development. The focus of much action was on asset creation.
Landscape governance here hinges on the conception of policy integration as interplay between scales
of government, between governmental and non- governmental actors, and a willingness to consider
different approaches for different projects and places. Planning and place branding functioned as frames
of policy integration for some projects, while other goals were tackled by means of other forms of policy
integration on appropriate scales. The incentives for players to shift strategies outside participatory
arenas were weaker (Cochrane, 2010). This was also the case where the new integration efforts were
most political in nature, but also had the strongest political support.
The three cases show that place branding strategies can complement spatial policies and help to
generate support for landscape restoration and protection, as part of a wider vision for the
development of the region. It can help in identifying certain qualities as assets and see certain patterns
in their recombination that offer development potential. The use of place branding strategies seems
particularly interesting in places where integrative and comprehensive forms of planning and policy
might be difficult to introduce or to implement, for example because governmental organisations have
limited competencies or resources, or because many actors fear restrictions following from
environmental regulation. In the context of landscape governance the added value of a place brand
should be understood in close relation with existing narratives on the local and regional identity (cf.
Oliveira, 2015). A brand that builds upon these existing narratives can more easily mobilize and unify
actors that despite different interests all share a certain pride for the area. The cases also show that
landscape governance should pay attention to the interplay between narratives, place brands, and the
17
materiality of a landscape. New narratives on the unity of the area, its uniqueness and its qualities can
be developed, but are more likely to be relevant for actors if they reflect existing narratives on the place.
A narrative or a place brand that is not recognized is unlikely to function as a framework for reference in
landscape governance. The cases also show that physical design can be used to make particular
landscape elements as well the overall coherence of the landscape more visible and recognizable, e.g.
through the reconstruction of cultural and natural elements and structures. Such interventions can
make particular narratives on the landscape, its history and its future more appealing and strengthen
the brand that draws on these narratives.
The study also shows that commodifying landscapes and its elements is neither easy nor necessarily
negative. What counts as ‘assets’ and which forms of governance are desirable to work with these
assets are a product of unique pathways of governance (Diamond, 2004; Pike et al., 2007). Place
identities, and in line place brands, always compete with each other. Not every brand can be imposed
on a place and nor does the development of a brand imply recognition for that brand. Although place
branding is gaining increasing attention and stories of success are enthusiastically shared, it is important
to understand that and how successful cases depend on contextual factor. Scholar interested in place
branding strategies should therefore be careful not to mix description and prescription (Duineveld et al.,
2009). The actors in the Vlaamse Ardennen could build on a strong place identity, while branding the
Zwinstreek proved to be difficult because of competing identities emphasizing the town of Brugge and
the coastal area. In addition one can say that although strong place brands can certainly help in
restricting undesired developments, they don’t offer the same stable form protection as legislation
does. Place branding should therefore be seen as additional strategy that cannot replace other
instruments and strategies. More specifically one could say that successful branding strongly depends
on other policies and projects and even on legal forms of coordination to be successful.
6. Conclusion
This study shows that landscape governance in the three regions in Flanders depends on shifting
configurations of narratives, instruments and strategies. In a slow evolution to a hardening of the region
as a frame for landscape governance, a shift in the forms of coordination could be observed.
Traditionally the landscape was governed via environmental policies and comprehensive planning,
largely initiated and implemented by governmental organisations. Over the years these strategies were
complemented and replaced with a variety of more participatory approaches and place branding
strategies. Within this evolutionary process the landscape emerged as a major asset that needs
protection and that has the potential to guide future developments. In all three regions tourism was a
catalyst for cooperation and coordination, for asset mapping, asset protection and asset combination
into a regional product. Landscape governance enhanced the protection of natural and cultural
elements in the landscape, the restoration of ecological dynamics, and the introduction and
enforcement of landscape protection. Place branding strategies proved to be a useful addition to the
existing set of instruments such as policies, laws, and spatial plans. These strategies helped in bringing
more actors to the table, in supporting the development and implementation of a shared vision, and in
paying more attention to the existing and future values of the landscape.
The study reinforces the idea that landscape governance requires participatory forms of
coordination. It shows that visions, plans, projects and place brands that emerge outside a political
context that is experienced as legitimate and inclusive by the involved actors are more difficult to
implement and might in the longer run even undermine sustainable protection and development of the
landscape.
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