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The dynamism generated by the many activities focused on the experience and safeguarding of silence and tranquillity finally led to Centrum Waerbeke being awarded for the Flemish Culture Prize for Heritage in 2005. The advisory commission justified its choice with the following words: ‘Centrum Waerbeke is a superb illustration of what an extension of the common concept of heritage – tangible and intangible, material and immaterial – can potentially signify in Flanders. It is seeking not only to preserve, but to encourage reflection on and promote silence and related qualities in the physical and social environment in which we live. Centrum Waerbeke Centre wishes to fulfil a symbolic function for the whole of Flanders. By bringing to the surface (traditions of) silence and tranquillity in various disciplines and social sectors, it is also emphasizing the binding power of stillness.’
Centrum Waerbeke – a competence centre in the field of tranquillity, calm and open space – is operating from the Dender-Mark Tranquillity Area. In 2001 the municipal authorities of Galmaarden, Geraardsbergen and Ninove, the provincial authorities of East Flanders and Flemish Brabant and the Flemish Minister of the Environment and Agriculture signed a cooperation protocol, in which they committed to work together in the future to maintain the quality of silence and tranquillity in this border area in which the Pajottenland meets the Flemish Ardennes. A tranquillity area is ‘a high quality living, working and leisure place with an interesting symbolic and scientific value, requiring the active cooperation of private landowners, users and visitors alike’.
On the edge of the Tranquillity Area lies the Congoberg, a superbly undulating hilly, since 1976 protected landscape situated in the municipality of Galmaarden. The Congoberg retains a largely unspoiled rural character with distant views and contrasts between open arable land and pastures and abrupt rivulet valleys. In early 2003 it was selected by the Flemish Minister of Culture as the sole landscape in Flemish Brabant for a conservation ànd development plan. For this reason, a management committee of landowners, inhabitants and users – 50 in all! – and experts put together a landscape management plan for the next nine years (till 2012). For a cultural landscape to function as a community asset, joint consultation, constructive cooperation and the involvement of all parties concerned is a must.
Building on the growing cooperation between various Flemish cities and communities around tranquillity as heritage, Centrum Waerbeke launched in 2007 a digital platform, in which the various manifestations of stillness or tranquillity are opened up to a broad audience, including professionals and policymakers. The website is conceived and will in the near future be further developed as an inspiring ‘digital tranquillity area’, an open site and a democratic meeting-place for many different communities of practice with information and activities on silence and on tranquillity areas both in Flanders and abroad, on the environmental and cultural values of silence, on heritage, education, landscape care, accessibility… All kinds of activities and initiatives are announced. It is also a place for creativity, with space for literature, visual arts, personal testimonies, etc. Culture – and heritage in particular – is in constant inter-relation with other policy areas like health and wellness, the environment, town and country planning, agriculture, recreation and mobility. The connection with other potential silence areas can also provide the starting point for other inter-municipal cooperation initiatives. The Silence Portal Site [see: www.portaalvandestilte.be] seeks – literally and by praxis – to contribute, as an instrument, to a larger, multi-sense consciousness of the perception of silence and, with all sectors and actors involved, to increase the sense of inter-belonging th