In 2003 the European Commission stated that certain rural areas were struggling with problems caused by modernisation. It was recognised that open spaces in regions under urban pressure, ask for a specific policy, different from the common rural and mainly agricultural development policy. Those open spaces, mostly situated in the densely populated areas of North West Europe, but also occurring in metropolitan areas of southern and eastern parts of Europe are prone to urban pressure, rural decline and loss of quality and identity. The importance of these open space landscapes for the quality of life, providing leisure and employment for inhabitants and visitors is strongly underestimated and less appreciated in public opinion and spatial planning.

In several European INTERREG programs the problems of open space under urban pressure in North West Europe was already a key issue. Seven regions formed a partnership noticed that traditional planning and landscape management have not always successfully addressed the complex relationship between urban and rural issues. Those so-called SOS partners came to the conclusion that open space can no longer be considered as a negative concept but must be appreciated as an essential component in the dynamic spatial development for the whole of the urbanized regions of Europe. Open space in urbanised regions is a reservoir for heritage and culture as well as for the economic, social, recreational and spiritual well being of its inhabitants of all kind in both rural and urban areas. It is a part of the binding agent for the urban-rural relationship, helping to connect communities with their surrounding landscapes, improving the quality of life, economic vitality and viability. Some 80% of all Europeans live in urbanized areas. An improved relationship, for example, between these consumers and the farming community, will benefit from a sustainable agriculture in peri-urban areas, where key words are quality and identity for sustainability.

Policymakers should at least follow three main objectives:

Innovation of spatial planning based on landscape identity by strategies on planning and increasing awareness; development of marketing strategies of the qualities and products in support of landscape identity and economic, social and cultural viability through activities, regional products and landscape management; the development of a knowledge network.Within the Common European Policy priority should be given to those areas, by supporting landscape marketing, stimulating ‘rural entrepeneurship’, improving landscape identity and facilitating knowledge networks. A new rural development program is again needed to tackle the rising problems in those open spaces, and, what is even more important, create opportunities for inhabitants and citizens in those areas.

Open spaces under urban pressure cannot be sustainable by protective measures only. They can only become sustainable by an active policy giving answers to problems and creating opportunities, for both inhabitants and users.


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