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Grensschap Albertkanaal: a gaze protecting landscape values and creating cross border unity (Pieter Calje)


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A handful of citizens of both sides of the Belgium-Dutch border near Maastricht organized themselves in a project group Grensschap Albertkanaal. This civil society group aimed at protecting landscape values by creating 14 artistic landmarks which communicated those values on the spot by creating a specific panoramic gaze on each location. In the process we also tried to create a cross-border feeling of community in an area deeply separated by the border and the Albertkanaal itself.

The landscape at both sides of the border of the Albertkanaal near Maastricht was much neglected partly because it was a loose-end type of border area which no authority cared for much except as a place where heavy industry could be located. Yet, it contains many highly valuable cultural and natural values, ranging from the specific geology which formed the landscape and its subsequent history, archeology from the prehistory (traces of the oldest inhabitants both of Vlaanderen and the Netherlands as well as the first farmers), Roman archeology and famous battlefields, both of the early modern period and the Second World War. Those values are preserved in the existing structure of the landscape. Thus, this structure contains many stories, which – if told on the spot – create valuable historical sensations.

Our little group of volunteers – 15 in all – succeeded in winning the support of the local authorities, the provincial authorities of both Belgium and Dutch Limburg and eventually the European Union. This resulted in a project budget of €700.000 which we spend in hiring an artist designing and realizing the 14 landmarks and a project bureau to organize the whole process. The project was opened by the Flemish minister of the Interior Mario Ceulen and the Dutch Provincial Government May, 20th, 2008. Since then, the project has proven to have not only cultural and social value but economical as well as it is beginning to play an important role in tourist activities in the region.

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Grensschap Albertkanaal: a gaze protecting landscape values and creating cross border unity (Pieter Calje)

  1. 1. Grensschap Albertkanaal. A gaze protecting landscape values and creating cross border unity Pieter Caljé Heritage Care Through Active Citizenship Mechelen March 23th, 2009
  2. 2. The place: the border area west of Maastricht
  3. 3. The cultural values of the landscape <ul><li>Oldest historical landscape Netherlands and Flanders </li></ul><ul><li>Archeology: first traces proto-human activity (300.000 B.P.) </li></ul><ul><li>First agricultural activities (5400 B.C.) </li></ul><ul><li>Key military activities related to the Dutch Revolt and later up to WW II and the Cold War </li></ul><ul><li>Historical values linked to the landscape as we see it today </li></ul>
  4. 4. The project Grensschap <ul><li>Aim: to show and protect the cultural values of the landscape </li></ul><ul><li>Threats: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>massive development activities (industry, house building, clay-explotation, railroads, canal, motorways) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>lack of control in planning because of the border </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. The Grensschap: the group <ul><li>some 15-20 citizens of both sides of the border </li></ul><ul><li>active since 2003 </li></ul><ul><li>essential: unstructured as organization, just monthly meetings, field trips, a newsletter and the will to accomplish something </li></ul><ul><li>Unique: official participation civil servants three municipalities </li></ul><ul><li>Bottom-up public-private partnership </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Cultural Biography of the landscape <ul><li>The concept -> anthropology (Kopytoff0 </li></ul><ul><li>Link structure actual landscape – historical events </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Relief -> military operations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Loam -> continuity of agriculture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Brooks -> silex-gathering Neanderthalers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Landscape evokes stories - the narrative landscape </li></ul><ul><li>Experience historical sensation </li></ul>
  7. 7. The project <ul><li>Evoke historical meaning landscape on the spot – let the landscape tell its own stories </li></ul><ul><li>Funding: Three municipalities, two provinces, EU -> € 700.000 </li></ul><ul><li>Three aims </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating a trans-border unity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use the concept of the cultural biography of the landscape </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Turn the defenseless landscape into something defensible by letting it speak for itself </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. The artist’s conception <ul><li>Artist Hans Lemmen -> 14 landmarks spread over three municipalities and two countries </li></ul><ul><li>Three unifying elements: megalith, border pole with information and three elms </li></ul><ul><li>Creating a view, a informed gaze on the historical landscape on a agreeable spot </li></ul>
  9. 9. Dousberg – Willem of Orange and Alva in 1568
  10. 10. Lanakerveld – the oldest agricultural area in the Netherlands
  11. 11. Sieberg – scene of a major battle in 1747
  12. 12. The result <ul><li>Lafelt (Belgium): a protected landscape </li></ul><ul><li>Zouwdal studies (Netherlands): recognition of landscape value in future development planning </li></ul>
  13. 13. Trans border effects <ul><li>Creation of a lasting trans-border network </li></ul><ul><ul><li>New projects: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trans-border c-2-c agriculture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trans-border educational projects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trans-border political cooperation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Enhancing the trans-border conscience </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Visiting the 14 landmarks create a feeling of unity across the border </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our borderpoles soften up the border </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Civil Society and Public Frameworks <ul><li>Project crosses all kind of political borders </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Belgium-Dutch border </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bureaucratic borders (culture, nature, economics) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hierarchy within bureaucracy (economy before nature and culture) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Thesis: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Top down approach reproduces those borders and stifles innovations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bottom up approach transgresses those borders and enables innovations </li></ul></ul>