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Conversations with Communities & their Landscapes

When I first discovered hiking (bushwalking, tramping, trekking) I embraced maps and the ideas of getting from Point A to Point B. I’d walk, camp, walk again to the next point and repeat. I was walking through amazing landscapes and layering sights, sounds and smells of the mountains, forests, national parks and world heritage areas I’d visit.


And I really embraced the maps – I loved looking at the contours and the paths. I’d assess gradient and distance, effort and reward.


But now maps are more than getting me from A to B. They have additional layers attached to them.


Something important happened as my studies and professional life led to me understanding more about the complex intersection of landscapes, communities and sustainability. I realised that we need to do more than move through a landscape. We need to move within a landscape – to have conversations with these spaces that are shaped by human activity and also with the humans that have been shaped by these landscapes.


I still enjoy a map – I have various ones as wall art, representing places of significance for me. These maps and I are connected through experience, sounds, sights, smells, remembered interactions and stories.


All people’s experiences are framed by reflecting on landscapes, how they fit into broader stories of sustainability and human use and how we can make a contribution to sustaining them and the communities who are part of them. These layers and taking the time to search for them, is partly what gives us an opportunity to have conversations with these landscapes. Landscapes have their own stories and our stories and experiences intersect with them and also with the communities that share them.


As my conversations with communities and their landscapes occurred around the world, I began to focus on the ways landscapes get protected and the  benefits and the costs this can have for communities. As I understood more about this, our own roles came into sharper focus and I began to ask myself some questions: How can we have conversations with landscapes, so that we understand more about landscapes, communities and our roles in sustaining both? What do we need to understand to be able to contribute to protecting landscapes and their communities? My attempts at trying to resolve these questions in my professional life have led me to where I am now.


How do we actually have a conversation with a community & its landscape?


Sometimes we run the risk of thinking landscapes are just a backdrop or a frame of reference – a place where we do things, or communities do things. We run the risk of ignoring the importance of the intersection of landscapes, their communities and us – people who are interested in the intersection of communities and their landscapes.


Here we need to ask ourselves a question: How can we support advocacy for these and other places?


There’s a broader broader context to this – one that has been highlighted by my professional life. These stories and connections are created by broader social, cultural, economic, political and historical processes. The landscapes we move in, and the communities who live there, deal with these broader contexts and processes and we need to recognise them.


This means our engagements are at once personal but also framed/influenced by broader processes. They are a complex set of relationships between ourselves, the landscapes (and their communities), and the socio-economic and political context within which they occur.


There are therefore multiple stories of landscapes and their communities – and part of our conversation is understanding how these stories add to that which we are travelling in and also to our own experiences and engagements with place through our travels.


Landscape stories encompass those of ecological processes, political decision-making, cultural values, historical processes and community actions.


There are also our own stories as we are a core part of all this – and our desire for conversations with landscapes shapes us as well as them. Conversations remind us that these landscapes are not ecological:

  • They have these other dimensions
  • They face threats and challenges
  • People face challenges in protecting them
  • Their challenges are also our challenges and our responsibilities


Our conversations add to our understanding of landscapes, communities and ourselves.


More about this through my Blog (here), our Collaboration Spaces and on my social media. Let’s start our own conversations.