Europe is a land of ancient urbanization where nature and culture of places are inextricably intertwined, defining real territorial cultural systems. After the era of a hurried expansion of the cities linked to the industrial revolution, in the height of the digital era, urban planning finds the key to understanding space in cultural heritage. In a European territory that appears increasingly distinct between metropolitan and inner areas, both cultural heritages play an essential role in defining the paradigms of self-sustainable development that urban planning declares to promote. This is the basic assumption that the paper proposes starting from the analysis of the relationship between historic centers and natural landscapes, in search of a different use of the land, reversible, respectful of the environment but still capable of being the physical support for anthropogenic transformations and the productions of economy and life. Starting from a rereading of the relationship between cultural heritage and territorial systems, the paper elaborates a different vision of the historic centers as epicenters of possible economic networks and ecosystem services, based on the analysis of Italian and Eastern Europe experiences.
- territorial cultural systems
- self-sustainable development
- urban planning
- cultural heritage
- historical urban landscape
1. Introduction: landscape and cultural heritage as territorial driver
As highlighted by Choay , it is the memory that guides the identification of the heritage. Historical centers and natural landscapes represent the key elements of that process of rediscovering the cultural, social, and economic identity of our territories, which through this interpretation can become the base of a new self-sustainable development model, consistent with the peculiarities of relationships between populations, activities, and places.
This is not a nostalgic reference to a bucolic past, to a rural world that no longer exists and which we hope to recreate, but on the contrary the verification of possible innovative futures in which the historic centers and the landscapes in which they are located represent the identity and recognized locations of new development models, of different ways of building the contemporary.
There is no discussion of lower land consumption, but of a different use of the land, reversible, respectful of the environment but still capable of being the physical support for anthropic transformations and the production of cultural economies, capable of making them productive and livable again and also inland areas far from large cities and the main mass mobility system.
The relationship between the transformation of urban settlements and the cultural and landscape matrix needs to be guided by urban planning.
Before entering into the ways in which urban planning and cultural heritage must be linked, it is necessary to share the concepts of heritage and landscape that form the basis of this renewed relationship.
The term heritage is currently used to express multiple concepts of contemporary society, with a plurality of meanings that are all the more different the more distant are the disciplinary areas within which it is used.
The etymology of the term “heritage” derives from the Latin word patrimonium, which in turn is the union of the terms pater (father) and munus (duty); it literally means “duty of the father,” and more extensively, it can be translated as “things belonging to the father,” that is, goods which as belonging to the fathers are full of value and meaning.
This still leads us to believe, with a broader meaning understood in an intergenerational key, that heritage is the set of assets that we inherited from our fathers so that they can be entrusted to future generations. Such a definition inevitably shifts the attention to the role that heritage must fulfill, a role that oscillates continuously between that of a passive deposit of historical memory and cultural identity and the opposite, a powerful stimulus for the creativity of the present and construction of the future.
The best known international instrument aimed at promoting cultural and natural, “material” or “tangible,” heritage is the 1972 UNESCO Convention,1 ratified by almost all the states of the world. In this convention cultural heritage2 and the natural one,3 however, they are considered in relation to their exceptional nature. Already at the end of the 1970s, the need was felt from many sides to add to this international convention a similar protection device for those “intangible” riches that make up the, so to speak, “intangible” heritage of humanity. After a long journey of studies and proposals, the new 2003 Convention was therefore reached,4 which thus completes that of 1972. There is no doubt that the protection of the only material component of monuments, environments, and landscapes can be meaningless without the preservation of the cultures and social expressions that have contributed to giving them life—they ensured the maintenance, and they took care of the decoration. Wanting to summarize the conceptual evolution gained within this important international body, it can be considered that with the 2003 Convention, in addition to having given particular importance to local communities in defining what is to be understood as heritage and the role that they must have in the strategies of protection and enhancement, the deep interdependence between intangible and material assets is affirmed; that is, the need for an integrated approach for the protection and enhancement of tangible and intangible assets for the benefit of established communities is affirmed .
Similar importance is given to local communities in defining the concept of landscape, as indicated in the European Convention of Florence in 2000.
In fact, Article 1 of the Convention defines the landscape as follows: it “means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.”
The European Convention signed in Florence in 2000 has changed the way we observe and recognize the landscape. The landscape is no longer just a thing of particular beauty or uniqueness, as some rules of the early twentieth century described it, but it has been fully recognized as a deep and inseparable intertwining between anthropic and natural heritage, material and immaterial, interpreted and built through the experience of the communities that live and use those places.
2. Cultural heritage and territorial systems’ relationships
On a cultural level, the reflections start from the scientific debate gained within the literature on the subject.
As already cited, highly innovative is the conception of the heritage in the thinking of Choay . His idea of heritage as “allegory of the memory” is based on the origin itself of the word “monument,” already mentioned in the previous paragraph, which means “warn” and “remember.” The monument challenges memory, calls it into question as a true selection criterion of the elements attributable to the cultural heritage of a settled community. The monument can therefore be considered a cultural universe linked to the characteristics of the context in which it is present and to the community capable of recognizing and understanding its value.
In fact, the environment can be considered as the result of a stratification process, the physical signs of which are the result of the complex relationship of the interaction between man and nature. In each period, the environmental structure has expressed that dense network of relationships through which a company has located itself in a particular physical context. Therefore, the environment can only be understood through the development of its history over time .
The attention must therefore be directed to grasp the recurring meanings of the profound relationship between population, activities and places, the unifying meanings of the landscape-environment, its deep structure, the quality of the differences of its structural meanings . In this context, the natural and cultural heritage becomes the result of the stratification of the life habits of the generations that have followed one another in those places. It becomes the physical narrative of the transformations not only of the territories but also of the communities that inhabited them .
But the concept of heritage finds its most fertile application in the territory in the thought of Magnaghi [5, 6], going beyond the same UNESCO distinction between cultural and natural heritage, tangible and intangible, to reach an original and potentially fruitful theory of local territorial development, within which it is possible to easily include and develop the concept of local territorial cultural system.
According to the UNESCO , cultural heritage comprises at least three categories:
Tangible cultural heritage:
Movable cultural goods (paintings, sculptures, coins, manuscripts).
Immovable cultural heritage (monuments, archeological sites, etc.)
Underwater cultural heritage (shipwrecks, underwater ruins, and cities).
Immaterial (or intangible) cultural heritage:
Oral traditions, performing arts, rituals.
Natural sites with cultural aspects, such as cultural landscapes and physical, biological, or geological formations.
Starting from the same basic ideas and sharing the definition of cultural heritage, the UNESCO  focused on the introduction and diffusion of the concept of cultural diversity.
Culture manifests itself in different ways in places and throughout the ages. This plurality is the main wealth of contemporary societies that distinguishes its identity from the previous ones. Cultural plurality, characterized by innovation and creativity, is as essential for man as biodiversity for nature.
If you share this approach, cultural heritage can be recognized as a relevant element of common capital on which to build the future of the next generations with a view to sustainable development .
Therefore, the key concept of this work lies in the recognition of this inseparable relationship between the cultural heritage of the historical centers and the landscape in which they are inserted.
Precisely the wide range of meanings that cultural heritage can assume according to the definition developed by the UNESCO (material, immaterial and natural cultural heritage) represents the foundation of a sustainable development that local communities can promote. In fact, in order to defend and promote cultural diversity, the range of cultural assets and landscapes in which they are included represent values so rooted and connected to each other capable of providing original interpretative tools of possible activities, economies, and forms of development.
In essence, the cultural heritage of a region must be interpreted as a lasting palimpsest of the different ways of interpreting the changing economic and social conditions, a prerequisite for identity change.
The cultural heritage, within the limits dictated exclusively by the need to maintain the particular characteristics, must be able to modify the function and role following the needs of society and the contemporary economy.
According to Magnaghi, in the territorialist approach, it is precisely the specific qualities of the place to find, through the energies of the local society, the specific style of self-sustainable development. It is evident that the interpretation, description, and representation of these qualities become the central theme of the space representations.
Magnaghi  therefore identifies an effective tool in what he defines as the “atlas of heritage.” In the territorialist sense, territorial heritage is a system of synergistic relationships between the peculiar qualities of the physical environment, the built environment, and the anthropic one. It is therefore necessary to represent and interpret in an integrated way the three aspects of the heritage itself.
The territorial heritage, thus defined and shared with the community, becomes for Magnaghi [3, 9] fertile ground for action, a living system on which to act to enhance the local environmental and cultural peculiarities, intended as parts of the wider local territorial cultural system. Urban planning organizes and programs the development of these cultural territorial systems in which space can be classified and interpreted.
3. Historic centers, possible poles of economic networks, and ecosystem services
Historic centers are often bastions which are remnants of age, habits, and traditions now lost in other parts of the territory. But in an era in which communication becomes more and more immaterial, in which virtual accessibility becomes more important, centers with original cultural heritages can become the cornerstone of innovative forms of production based on a new synergy between anthropic activities, nature, and landscape.
The cultural heritage placed at the center of the development policies of a territory can contribute to attract not only tourists but also investors capable of promoting the local economy by introducing new activities, also possibly controlled and exercised at a distance from the polarities of the world economy through the use of information and communication technologies .
In line with the operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention , cultural landscapes are cultural goods which represent the “combined works of nature and man” as identified in Article I of the Convention.
Landscapes represent the evolution over time of society and its relationship with the territory, with its strengths and weaknesses.
There are a great variety of landscapes which are representative of the different regions of the world, of the combined work of nature and humanity, and express a long and intimate sharing relationship between peoples and their natural environment. Some sites reflect specific land use techniques that guarantee and support biological diversity. Others, through traditions and religious rites, embody an exceptional spiritual relationship between people and nature.
To preserve the memory of the relationships between men and the environment, safeguarding traditional cultures, a true deposit of the memory of those who preceded us (sacred places, botanical gardens, crops, ways of using the territory, etc.), these sites, recognized as landscapes cultural, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. They constitute our common identity as member of the human race.
In 2010, the culture of integrated conservation recognized internationally the need to maintain with the historical city also the historical cultural landscape in which it finds its origin. The recognition of the historic city in the contemporary urban landscape was sanctioned by the UNESCO .
Today the historic urban landscape (HUL) is of fundamental importance in all urban planning and integrated conservation projects.
Historic cities and the rural villages each within its own territorial and landscape context are an integral part of the world heritage, with the communities and their intangible assets, in a continuous process of evolution and change.
In an urban context, the safeguarding and enhancement of heritage concern the set of built and open spaces that can be included in metropolitan areas or the set of small urban settlements and their rural spaces, including the intangible values that characterize them (Figure 1).
In this context, the operation consists in referring the cities with their morphological, functional, and structural characteristics to a larger whole, consisting of its territory, the surrounding environment, and the landscape.
Each community, through the recognition of its collective memory and the knowledge of its past, has the task of identifying the way to preserve its heritage. Each element of this heritage is the bearer of specific values, with the relative possibilities for change  (Figure 2).
With respect to all the considerations made so far, further reflection on the importance of the soil resource must be spent, also in terms of cultural as well as environmental resources. Awareness of the value of the soil resource seems to grow, in literature, together with the recognition of the ecosystem services it is able to offer .
With the soil status monitoring methods usually available from local authorities, it is complicated and in practice difficult to achieve, to express and quantify the impact of soil losses and degradation at local scale also in terms of erosion of rural landscapes, loss of ecosystem services, and vulnerability to climate change, and finally, to provide decision-makers at local level with specific information for the definition and implementation of measures with the aim of limiting, mitigating or compensating for soil sealing.
Therefore, it is equally complex to provide an in-depth picture of the loss of ecosystem services related to land use due to anthropogenic factors.
In fact, as illustrated in many scientific articles (e.g., ), a soil of good quality is able to correctly perform its ecological, economic, and social functions, guaranteeing the supply of peculiar ecosystem services or the benefits that man obtains, directly or indirectly, from the ecosystems  and necessary for their sustenance [17, 18], which are divided according to the most recent classification of the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES):
Procurement services (food and biomass products, raw materials, etc.)
Regulation and maintenance services (climate regulation, carbon capture and storage, erosion and nutrient control, water quality regulation, protection and mitigation of extreme hydrological phenomena, genetic reserve, biodiversity conservation, etc.)
Cultural services (recreational and cultural services, ethical and spiritual functions, landscape, natural heritage, etc.)
In general, a soil can be considered in good health if it has an adequate content of organic substance, a good structure, and a high diversification of the micro- and macroorganisms that populate it . It is evident that a waterproofed soil can provide cultural services at most but not the other two .
With these premises, it is easier to understand why historic centers are potential epicenters of new economic networks and ecosystem services. In fact they are certainly able to offer multiple cultural services, but at the same time, their reuse saves soil and therefore guarantees at least the services of regulation and maintenance of ecosystems (Figure 3).
4. First forms of sustainable landscape development: some experiences in Eastern Europe
The values and strategies described so far have found a first application in a European project, born within the proposals relating to the thematic program 2007–2013 promoted by the European Union “Investing in Europe: Investing in People” and within the Eastern Partnership Culture program. The title of the project summarizes the focal points on which the partners have concentrated their insights and the consequent activities, Valorization and Improving of Management of Small Historic Centers in the Eastern Partnership region, hence the acronym VIVA_EASTPART.
The project aims to establish study and operational methodologies that allow local partners from the Eastern European countries involved (Romania, Moldova, Armenia) to build new development paths through an integrated approach to cultural heritage, with particular reference to the centers and small historians, in order to produce territorial added value.5
The study and action strategy was aimed at defining an innovative form of sustainable development, which would best enhance the individual components that structure each “cultural territorial system” , the product of the interaction between culture and territory, between local identity and global heritage, and between conservation and transformation.
In fact, we speak of “systems,” since the territories examined are characterized by the overlap of elements of historical and geographical evolution, precise and linear elements, merged with the surrounding landscape that holds them together in a perfectly distinguishable unicum. The systemic character is particularly evident in one of the pilot cases, Tavush region in Armenia, in which the system of monasteries embedded in the rock of the Armenian barren mountains is now an integral part of a harmonious anthropic natural landscape, in which religion, tradition, culture, and history mingle to create a tangible and intangible systemic heritage (Figure 4).
The term “territorial” is also used, since the focus of the entire project was the internal rural areas dotted with small villages and historic centers, territories often still with unexpressed potential, not yet usurped by mass tourism and building speculation, and for this reason, still full of meanings elsewhere forgotten or suffocated. Strategies and planning must necessarily act here from a territorial point of view, to create sustainable development that brings out the values of these lands, so that the local works for the global and vice versa (Figure 5).
Finally, the term “cultural” is used, referring to that cultural framework  composed of tangible and intangible assets, which affect a variety of aspects: from architecture to art, from history to music, from nature to crafts, and so on. It is a matter of identifying those local cultural landscapes  in which the population recognizes itself, beyond any geographical dimension and any administrative boundary. The atlas of landscapes that takes shape in this way perfectly follows the spirit of the European Landscape Convention of 2000 and lays the foundations for sustainable and flexible planning that goes beyond the territorial and sectoral hierarchies, which derives from the values in which the inhabitants recognize and manage to integrate the various components into shared strategic scenarios. The path to achieve these objectives and to draw up the so-called “integrated cultural plan” is described and detailed in the Methodology Dossier, produced by scientific partners and implemented and tested by local partners in pilot projects.
At the operational level, the preparation of a “toolkit” was also extremely useful, a lean and easy-to-use manual that local partners could follow and consult at each stage of their activities.
Furthermore, the involvement of the populations was transversal within the project, from the cognitive-reconnaissance phase to the planning phase, to draw on the one hand important elements of the diffuse knowledge necessary to create a map of values inherent in the territories and on the other to create an awareness of a place such as to develop awareness of the development potential of the territories themselves in the inhabitants, an essential condition for initiating effective processes of sustainable local development . Drawing important lessons, in fact, from good and bad practices of the past, we tried to involve the local populations by directing all activities towards forms of active and inclusive participation, with the aim of exploiting and interpreting those codes and languages of the best transmission that are almost always behavioral and that as such escape codification through rules and documents but which represent an invaluable pool of knowledge and potential action.
5. Conclusions and perspectives for territorial cultural systems
Italy and much of Europe enjoy an extraordinary polycentrism and a large and diverse network of small- and medium-sized historic centers. It is therefore necessary to be able to enhance this original settlement structure. It is essential to highlight the enormous territorial capital made up of the networks of historic centers and the territorial systems in which they are included , which has its strengths in natural and cultural resources, in agricultural and tourist production systems, and in the social energy of the local population and potential residents. In this context, the unused territorial capital represents an important latent resource to be reactivated. It is a measure of the development potential that can be implemented. Strengthening the demographic structure of these territorial systems and the quality of life, in terms of access to essential services, is an indispensable condition for the success of any development strategy one wishes to implement in these territories. Strengthening can be achieved through population growth or an increase in working-age population classes or at least a halt to decline. Overcoming the inertial demographic dynamics is a fundamental aspect for the success of local development policies .
Strategies must therefore aim at improving the quality of life of residents, well-being, and social inclusion, increasing the demand for work and the use of territorial capital. No less important are the strategies aimed at the protection of the territory, the enhancement of natural and historical cultural resources, the promotion of sustainable tourism, the activation of agro-food systems, and the reevaluation of know-how and craftsmanship linked to traditions locals. Obviously, natural and cultural capital  is not the only outcome of history: it can be increased with appropriate modernization practices and policies through architecture, the reuse of disused urban containers, and the enhancement and integration in integrated itineraries and/or itineraries (e.g., food and wine or cultural). Natural and cultural capital then requires a necessary integration with the world of entrepreneurship to be translated into economic opportunity.
There are numerous policies, programs, and actions capable of supporting a self-sustainable local development of this territorial capital, but to pursue them, it is necessary to change the cultural approach and governance models of this process and a medium long-term time horizon .
These purposes and these strategies are at the basis of the activities started to encourage the development process of numerous territorial realities in Italy, such as, for example, among many, the pilot project called “Live Villages,” or that of the most beautiful villages in Italy which have now taken on the characteristics of a large area territorial project (Figure 6).
By shifting even more attention to the territorial cultural systems, the goal becomes to plan individual territorial realities in the broader context in which they fall: the territorial cultural systems can in fact allow a unitary and systemic vision of development activities based on the enhancement of resource locals.
With these design purposes, however, the development prospects of the territorial cultural systems are outlined within the latest generation landscape plans, in line with what is defined in the European Landscape Convention. Cultural heritage is therefore interpreted as an integrated system related to the territory, in its historical structure defined by long-lasting territorialization processes, and by the identity characteristics of the territorial figures that compose it.
Planning is therefore understood here as an action-oriented project activity, an activity inclusive of the plurality of ideas and instances expressed by the settled communities, a different way of approaching, that is, looking for solutions aimed at promoting local development. This highlights the need to understand what the fundamental requirements of the planning process must be in order to be able to involve inhabitants and stakeholders, to manage the relationship between public and private entities, to use and administer significant quantities of georeferenced data and information, to promote the quality of the urban and territorial landscape, and to pursue a real quality of life for the users of the plan, in economically weak territorial areas, with a resident population dispersed over large territorial areas and often characterized by infrastructural deficiencies.
In taking cultural heritage as the driving force of development, the planning process must be able to construct shared development scenarios, in terms of complexity rather than according to simplified visions, in order to fully grasp the peculiarities and diversities of the places: peculiarities and diversity are the foundation of development. It is therefore a matter of supporting and consolidating, on the one hand, the internal “short relationships” between local subjects, that is, the set of shared knowledge, cooperative skills, and habits that produce geographically diverse territories and cultural characters, and to promote, on the other, the “long relationships” between the local and the super flat . It is in these latter relationships that the process of self-determination of the local society can take place : “local” and “global” must have a dimension of constant dialectic.
This means, therefore, that the planning process must assume the identity characteristics of cultural heritage as central factors in development policies to produce new territorial qualities, such as to attribute high levels of competitiveness to local resources on a global scale.
Planning and subsequently designing cultural heritage as a resource for the territory is fundamental to allow its reuse and reintegration into the life cycle of its communities. In order to be protected and enhanced, the cultural heritage that preserves the history and identity of places, it must be part of a project capable of making it contemporary.
The time is also ripe to work on a territorial project capable of combining protection and conservation with actions of “re-signification and modification” of the places; a project capable of clearly outlining future scenarios that address issues related to the protection of cultural heritage and landscape but also the inclusion of services, in their close interdependence; and the promotion of cultural occasions and events related to the specificity of the individual territorial polarities, as well as to settlement development, mobility, and accessibility. It is a matter of promoting a project that refers to a grid of qualitative parameters and not only, and no longer—as usual—simply quantitative. The search for an overall quality of the project lies in the ability to interpret the constitutive logics of the territory, to recognize its training laws and to propose itself as part of a physical and social spatial whole (Figure 7).
This is reinforced today by the same reference legislation, consequent to the European Landscape Convention, increasingly oriented towards expanding the range of action of the project activity to ensure specific territorial quality objectives for each territory. In the development scenarios, the project invests all landscapes, even those whose quality is only latent if not absent, and considers their potential not only in relation to forms and signs inherited from history but also to the value of change, when it is coherent with those signs and with those forms. Signs and forms therefore become driving factors of regeneration processes and renewed identities.
- The Convention concerning the “protection of the cultural and natural heritage worldwide” was signed on November 16, 1972.
- Made up of monuments, settlement agglomerations, and sites formed by man such as archeological sites.
- Consisting of natural monuments including physical and biological formations, geological and physiographic formations, and natural sites.
- The Convention for the “Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage” was approved by the General Conference of UNESCO on October 17, 2003.
- Scientific coordination was entrusted to academic figures from the Polytechnic University of Bari and the University of Rome La Sapienza, with the aim of supporting and guiding the actions of local partners, through the definition of a budget on past actions and policies (good and bad practices), the drafting of a methodology for the construction of the Integrated Cultural Territorial Plans and Local Action Plans, the drafting of a toolkit containing the operating instructions, and the support of local partners in the drafting of the pilot projects on the three selected areas (Sibiu County in Romania, Dilijan, Tavush region in Armenia, and Cahul County in Moldova).