Évora University does not open landscape architecture!

António Covas defends the creation of a higher education network in the south-west of the peninsular, covering the Alentejo, Algarve, Extremadura and Andalusia

I was a professor at the University of Évora, in the economics department, for 23 years and its vice-rector in 1994-95. It was also at the University of Évora that I learned to like landscape architecture, because from an early age I was sensitive to that disconcerting innocence of architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles.

I remember attending his lectures and often getting a sour taste in my mouth, confused, because his theses often contradicted my certainties as a young economist - which had, then, to do with "limits to growth”.

I grew up as a teacher and never stopped following and admiring the school of landscape architecture at the University of Évora, which, moreover, opened the doors for me to other areas of knowledge, such as agrarian sciences, land use planning, agricultural policy and rural development, human geography and territorial development.

Today, three decades later, I hear that the University of Évora does not open, in the next academic year, the first year of the landscape architecture course. A cycle closes, I'm not surprised, it was an already announced event.

I would like to take this opportunity to make some reflections in this regard, which go far beyond landscape architecture and reach higher education as a whole.


The Higher Education Network of the Southwest Peninsula

In 1994/95, when I was vice-rector in Évora, I proposed the creation of a regional higher education network. I was not successful. The argument is known, “it was premature”. For those in power, problems are not anticipated, they are “resolved”. It was a missed opportunity.

Later cooperation protocols were made between Évora and the Algarve, but the system's inertia prevailed again. Today, as seems evident, the areas I mentioned are going through a very critical phase. It is, therefore, time to return to the idea of ​​a higher education network, this time, extended to the southwest of the peninsular, that is, it seems to me that the time has come to create the higher education network of the southwest of the peninsular, covering the Alentejo, the Algarve, Extremadura and Andalusia.

Within this "higher education network in the southwest of the peninsula" thematic networks of teaching, research and extension would be created, one of which would be, precisely, the large thematic area of ​​agricultural, environmental and landscape sciences, obviously, in light of what are today the current typologies in terms of research and development in these areas.

Within the framework of this peninsular thematic network, a mobility network for students, teachers, researchers and staff would be created and in the curriculum, maximum flexibility would be adopted between face-to-face and distance learning, between teaching, research projects and university extension, all at the base of an alternate teaching, in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the field and in the company.

An associated network of institutions, companies and services would also be created, as well as a set of pilot actions and extension projects in the four regions mentioned, which would serve to put into operation a service of research grants and professional internships in the interior. from the Web.

Within the southwestern peninsular network, certain landscape areas would also be elected or named, for example, natural parks, but also burned areas and others subject to severe erosion, for a major program to combat climate change, not only with regard to mitigation and adaptation actions, but also rehabilitation and regeneration.

Based on this south-western peninsular network, a solid foundation for teaching, research and development would be established, with projection for the Southern Mediterranean countries, Portuguese-speaking African countries and Latin American countries, to name only those that are with us. closer. This external relations network opens the door to projects financed by international organizations and, in particular, the European Union.

Without this invigorated muscle, without this arterial and capillary network and without this central nervous system, I fear that our capacity for political, institutional and financial negotiation will be greatly weakened and that the low phase of the sociodemographic cycle, which is already there, will be a bad one. forerunners for the coming years, not only at the University of Évora, but also at other universities and polytechnics in the interior of the country.


The great transformations of the coming decades

The next few decades have great unknowns and transformations in store for us. The ecological transition and the unknown of climate change (the advent of a new geoclimatic era). The digital transition and the unknown of artificial intelligence (the advent of transhumanism). The productive transition and the unknown of migrations (of people, goods, services and capital, the advent of a new geopolitics). Are these transformations converging or diverging?

The harshness and hostility of the climate affect our daily life, warning us that the ecological transition is an unavoidable horizon of meaning for human life, a sense of finitude, limit and responsibility. If we do not respect nature, there will be no benign human-nature co-evolution and our daily lives can become a real hell.

The digital transition is the great transforming force of our time, made up of freedom and transgression, from the infinitely small of nanotechnologies to the infinitely large of intelligent robotics, in a journey that can take us beyond the limits of the human being, towards the transhumanism and post-humanity.

The third major transition concerns the great migrations, of people seeking work and refuge, markets for goods and services that seek the best relocation to be produced, capital that "goes crazy" in search of better profitability, plants and animals that they seek new habitats in order to survive. It truly is the fight for life.

And in view of this triple transition and great transformation, what will the Portuguese university do? Are its main protagonists fully aware of the transforming force of their convergence and the destructive force of their divergence? What to do in this time of virtual and augmented reality, of collaborative platforms and applications, of constant mobility, of digital natives and topolygamy, of “non-places and third-places”?

True, there are positive signs, but also many contradictory signs and reciprocal suspicions. The ecological community is suspicious of technological and digital arrogance, while digital actors, marked by dematerialization and efficiency, consider themselves ecological by nature. The two transitions trigger virtuous circles and vicious circles and more or less pronounced ecological and digital footprints. On the other hand, and given these two transitions, the perception of risk is so vulnerable and unstable that migrations end up accelerating the global and systemic metabolism of the three transitions, at the same time causing shock waves in all directions.

I return to landscape architecture and its centrality as a real community in the midst of so many virtual and online communities. Landscape architecture is the full sense of reality, because it gives us back the full sense of proportions, the global landscape, as Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles used to say. It is the landscape architecture that builds a particular look at the territory, our look, it is what gives us back the remote place and our relationship with the world.

Universities and polytechnics cannot settle for this episode, of non-opening of the landscape architecture course in Évora, just now that we are experiencing the greatest risks ever with regard to biodiversity, our habitats, ecosystem functions and services, the our living conditions, after all.

So, let us not be dazzled by the bright screens that glow frantically on our everyday and hourly technological gadgets. Have you already tried the open field or the white field and the observation of the low flight of a steppe bird in the middle of the Alentejo peneplain? So experience and feel the magnitude of nature and environment, the pulse of life around us.


Final Notes

Henceforth, given the scarcity of resources, I do not believe that the arguments of fair distribution, the complaint capital of low-density territories or the theory of acquired rights are, by themselves, sufficient argumentative capital to make a gain in the political dispute . That is to say, either higher education proves its life in terms of our closer international relations, showing how information and communication technologies can contribute to creating intelligent and creative territories, or else we will be an object of progressive decline involved in intestinal and inconsequential struggles and hostages of the behavior of the sociodemographic cycle.

As for landscape architecture in Évora, we still have time to prevent this episode, but under condition, the one I mentioned in the first part of this writing about the higher education network in the southwest of the peninsula. Let's do it in honor of the architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles. The path is made by walking. Let's continue the journey.


Author António Covas is a full professor at the University of Algarve and a PhD in European Affairs from the Free University of Brussels