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Land Use and Consumption in a Historical Perspective

Usage et consommation des sols dans une perspective historique

Uso e consumo del suolo in prospettiva storica

Definitions, Concepts, and Methods

Définitions, concepts et méthodes

Definizioni, concetti e metodi

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Published on Thursday, February 22, 2024

Abstract

The relationship between societies and soil is intrinsic to human history. Nowadays, this relationship is strongly defined by land use and consumption practices that, at different scales, increasingly threaten the common good and the biodiversity conservation. Urban planning interventions and intensive forms of production lead to the fragmentation, erosion, and ultimately, transformation of soil into a commodity, a freely usable “raw material,” rather than recognizing it as a non-reproducible good. In such a context, a revision of the evolution of concepts of use, consumption, and artificialization of the soil can contribute to a better understanding of the perspectives and rhetoric developed over time and in relation to contemporary challenges.

Announcement

Argument

The relationship between societies and soil is intrinsic to human history. Intimately linked to food production and consumption and to the issues of land ownership and rent, it continues to evolve in response to sustainable development challenges.

Nowadays, this relationship is strongly defined by land use and consumption practices that, at different scales, increasingly threaten the common good and the biodiversity conservation. Urban planning interventions and intensive forms of production lead to the fragmentation, erosion, and ultimately, transformation of soil into a commodity, a freely usable “raw material,” rather than recognizing it as a non-reproducible good.

In such a context, a revision of the evolution of concepts of use, consumption, and artificialization of the soil can contribute to a better understanding of the perspectives and rhetoric developed over time and in relation to contemporary challenges.

Based on these considerations, the Alpine History Laboratory (Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, Università della Svizzera Italiana), in collaboration with the University of Lille, organizes a conference that, through an interdisciplinary perspective, aims to delve into three main issues, namely: (1) the definition of soil and its services; (2) the concepts of property, rights, and citizenship in relation to the land use; (3) current perspectives on the development of an urban planning that takes care of the soils.

Soil Definitions and Services

Since we want to adopt a historical perspective, an identification of the definitions to be used with reference to the historical periods and the various legal, geographical, and landscape cultures across Europe, is required. For example, it might be difficult to apply the concept of “land consumption” referring to the past, not so much because similar phenomena did not exist, but because soil was generally not considered a scarce resource. This work also implies not only an evaluation of the soil value in relation to its uses (even in the past it would be possible to identify places and periods where the soil resource was scarce), but rather considering it as an essential provider of “ecosystem services”. Soil is not a merely two-dimensional surface on which to place buildings and (infra)structures, delineate boundaries, define property and extract wealth, but an active and living protagonist, albeit fragile, in human and animal life, capable of providing a range of “services”[1].

In this perspective, it would be interesting and useful to historicize and geographically locate the definitions and terminologies related to soil (functions, characteristics, value, etc.), as well as the indicators used to determine its consumption, considering that these vary both at national and regional levels[2].

Starting from these observations, the following lines of analysis are proposed:

  1. What definitions related to soil and its consumption can be used to describe contemporary phenomena and historical phenomena?
  2. Is it possible to relate soil consumption phenomena to the past?
  3. How does the relationship between soil scarcity, the impact of consumption, geographic and temporal scales vary? Which consequences do the scarcity of soil, determined by its consumption, produce on a local scale and on larger scales?

(2) Property, Rights, Citizenship

Soil is a resource that generates various ecosystem services for the benefit of the society. From this point of view, one wonders if it is possible to speak of a “right to the soil,” as a tool that ensures a fair access to these services and a proper exercise of citizenship rights depending on it.

However, soil is a scarce and fragile resource, and the soil consumption, logically, puts the services it provides at risk. Therefore, one wonders if it is not necessary to prioritize a true “right of the soil,” capable of guaranteeing its vitality and quality and, consequently, the other rights.

Reflections on common property, collective land management and the “new commons”[3] are just some of the ways in which we can take a step towards a “right to the soil,” or even a “right of the soil.” Perspectives relating to the “new commons” seem to be more adapted to in contexts marked by a significant presence of agricultural activity. Such a situation refers the pre-industrial era, or to a new framework based on new principles and a new system of values, tools and laws.

Based on these observations, the following questions can be formulated:

  1. How has the soil fragility been perceived in both past and contemporary cultures? Is there a chronological boundary from which an irreversible awareness of soil complexity for life emerges?
  2. Could the “right of the soil” prevail compared to all other rights considering that it is essential for the life itself?
  3. To what extent does land consumption differ in plain, mountainous, and intermediate territories?

(3) Towards a Soil-friendly Urban Planning

Since its inception, urban planning understood soil more as an inert surface on which to place buildings and infrastructure than as a substrate. In zoning plans that still today divide the territory into different functionally homogeneous or semi-homogeneous zones (e.g., residential-commercial zones) subject to specific rules regarding land use, there is a tendency not to consider the state and quality of soils and its ecosystem services. The result is the repetition of planning policies based on ideological and partial visions[4]. Disregard for the ecological value of soils is evident not only in real estate speculation, but also in the decisions of local authorities, for whom the sale of agricultural land for infrastructure projects, logistics hubs and speculative housing estates becomes a simple tool of budgetary policy. This is partly due to insufficient knowledge of soil characteristics and functions. To overcome these trends, researchers and urban planners have been reflecting, for about a decade, on a “soil-friendly urban planning”[5] encouraging a greater integration in urban plans of the soil as a provider of ecosystem services and rights. It is also essential to systematize the collection and analysis of soil-related data. This is an essential condition for ensuring greater sustainability of interventions and greater scientific awareness of the subject.

Starting from these observations, here are some guiding questions that can stimulate reflections:

  1. What new perspectives on the use and consumption of soil emerge in contemporary urban planning and territorial studies? What role does digitization, telemedicine, information services, and telecommuting play in land conservation or consumption?
  2. Considering the consolidated scientific work, starting from the European Soil Charter of 1972, why do policies and practices lag in providing concrete and structural answers? What possible solutions for a paradigm shift?
  3. What critical issues do scientific studies and monitoring analyses highlight? What role can they play in shaping future practices and policies?

Submission guidelines

The conference will take place on 17 and 18 October 2024 in Mendrisio at the Laboratorio di Storia delle Alpi, Accademia di Architettura, Università della Svizzera Italiana.

Proposals (title and abstract, 1000 characters) can be submitted by filling out the form at https://forms.office.com/e/0TKzXWjpzH

by 31.03.2024.

Organizing Committee

  • Luigi Lorenzetti, Università della Svizzera Italiana
  • Roberto Leggero, Università della Svizzera Italiana
  • Hessam Khorasani Zadeh, Université de Lille
  • Anna Fera, Politecnico di Milano

Notes

[1]  “Provisioning services: i.e. food, drinking water, timber, raw materials, etc. 2. Regulating services: e.g. flood protection, air pollution control, etc. 3. Cultural services: recreational services, etc. 4. Supporting services: i.e. all the processes that guarantee the necessary preconditions for the existence of ecosystems”, R. Simonetti, Environnement et services écosystémiques dans le Polesine. Le cas d’étude de Costa di Rovigo (XIIe-XVIe siècles), in D. Canzian and Elisabetta Novello (Eds.), Ecosystem Services in Floodplains, Padua, 2019, p. 29–30.

[2] For example, with reference to the ISPRA reports that monitor soil consumption in Italy (distinguishing between reversible and non-reversible land cover), it was recently stated that they define agricultural practices as a danger to the soil in that “areas occupied by farm buildings, greenhouses, storage areas, roads or other artefacts and infrastructures in any case at the service of agricultural activities (…) are considered ‘consumed’ in the same way as any urbanised area, without taking into account that the structural endowment of farms constitutes the essential condition to prevent productive disuse and land abandonment”, Rapporto ISPRA 2023.

[3] U. Pomarici, Beni comuni, in Id., (Ed.), Atlante di filosofia del diritto, I, Turin, 2012, p. 5.

[4] For example, the promotion of “dense” settlements in the name of combating land consumption which is considered as necessarily more crucial in contexts characterized by scattered settlements.

[5] See, for example, P. Henry, Des tracés aux traces. Pour un urbanisme des sols, Editions Apogée, Rennes, 2023 ; P. Viganò, Il giardino biopolitico. Spazi, vite e transizioni, Rome, 2023; S. Verleene, Un urbanisme sur sols vivants ? Esquisse d’une pensée du souterritoire à travers l’étude du Tournaisis rural en Belgique, in M. De Marchi et H. Khorasani Zadeh (Eds.), Territori post-rurali. Genealogie e prospettive / Territoires post-ruraux. Généalogies et perspectives, Rome, 2020, p. 57-73 ; P. Pileri, Che cosa c’è sotto. Il suolo, i suoi segreti, le ragioni per definirlo, Milan, 2016.

Places

  • Via Alfonso Turconi 25
    Mendrisio, Switzerland (6850)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


Date(s)

  • Sunday, March 31, 2024

Keywords

  • usage, consommation, artificialisation, sol, propriété, droit, citoyenneté, urbanisme, commun

Information source

  • Hessam Khorasani Zadeh
    courriel : hessam [dot] khorasanizadeh [at] ehess [dot] fr

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Land Use and Consumption in a Historical Perspective », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, February 22, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/vvxu

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