The landscape, like life, does not stop in fear

Having overcome the need for current sacrifices, do we want to continue to be separated?

On September 11, 2001, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, in lower Manhattan, New York, claimed the lives of some 2.700 people, injuring many thousands more and traumatizing millions.

This attack, in addition to its human, political and economic dimension, had an overwhelming effect in psychological and social terms on a world scale, whether or not we lived – already then – in a globalized society.

Fear became a constant presence, and its management at the most varied levels of daily life became a primary concern. Not knowing where or in whom to identify the signs of the threat – if the heart of Western culture had been attacked mercilessly, what would be safe? – we started to look at the neighbor, and especially the “stranger” (who are all of us in relation to all of us), with suspicion.

The landscape and, within it, the public space, is where the community truly takes place, where the spirit of place, which is also the spirit of the people, is inherited, appropriated, shared and built by everyone. In such a way, that it is in the public spaces of a society that it is most easily and eloquently revealed and characterized. In social behaviour, in usage habits, in sounds, in the architectural language of spaces, in the presence of vegetation and in the way it is treated, in the cleanliness and care given to maintenance, among many other small and large factors. It is also a space for mental hygiene, relief, decompression, (re)encounter with the spell of our telluric roots lost – but not cut – for example in parks and gardens (which are also hotbeds of love and poetry).

It is a space for contact with ourselves and with others. Where we allow ourselves to be human, in an increasingly dehumanized society.

I even venture to say, without scientific proof but with reasonably informed empirical intuition, that what attracts us most in public spaces is the presence or the possibility, depending on the will, of contact with others, in literal proximity or figurative background for a personal isolation.

Here, too, fear entered, in 2001, to the point where guiding documents were produced for the design and construction of open spaces (soft targets) prepared to hinder terrorist attacks or other anomalous events (public order disturbances, mostly) and for a more effective intervention by the forces of authority and suppression of changes in “normality”. Due to the unfortunate repetition of terrorist attacks all over the world, since then, many of these manuals, whether in the United States of America or in the European Union, are recurrently (re)visited and updated.

Interestingly, at the epicenter of the attack on World Trade Center, a tree was impossibly rescued from the debris of Ground Zero, recovered, and is now part of the memorial to the victims of 11/XNUMX. It was named “Survivor tree”. A garden pear (Calleryan Pyrus, originating… from Asia) which today represents resilience and survival, and seedlings of its origin are annually distributed, so that it can reproduce in various parts of the USA, as a testimony of hope in adversity and rebirth.

​Fear, although present, did not take hold in the design of public space. This continued to be guided by principles – although every rule has exceptions, obviously – creative and non-destructive, and the experience seeks joy and well-being, not security (in the sense that it is here, naturally). Other things have passed, such as video surveillance and other deterrent methods that are also controlling, in an inexhaustible debate and apparently impossible to resolve.



The fear that visits us today is different. It is also invisible, and it also has no face. Worse, it has the possibility of all faces, even the closest ones, and it is a fear that is not necessarily related to one's own, but rather to others, older and/or fragile.

The way in which this fear attacks us in public space is particularly violent: it takes us away from that space, empties it of us and empties us of it. There are no manuals, no guidelines for design and design. There is only emptiness.

Public space was transferred to virtual space, testing its limits and its real effectiveness as a second life. now by obligation and not by choice. Geography has spread into the space that does not have it, trying to show that there is neither distance nor absence.

But there is also no touch or presence, breaking the fundamental empathy and perpetuating nostalgia.

Nobody can foresee the effects of the suspension – strange, because it is frantically mediated, and so often poorly informed – into which the world has plunged.

Is this a turning point for humanity? Is this virus (even due to the possibility of arising from environmental disturbances) the catalyst we needed for the much-needed catharsis that environmental, social and economic evidence has long advised?

The future is not interrupted.

That is why it is important to balance, in a thoughtful and effective way, the confrontation between foolish optimism and fatalistic immobility, between hope and terror. Affirm that we will all be fine – when so many are no longer and we know that so many will not – that the Economy, if left to its own devices, will solve everything, believe that the World will end – however tragically and frighteningly fast the death of this disease is , for example, the numbers of deaths from hunger crush it – or believing that we must suddenly plunge into authoritarian dystopias, are variants of blocking a necessary pragmatic realism, simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic.

Not belonging to the hordes of experts and following the best practices that populate social networks in intense shouting, I do not know and much less have monolithic certainties (those that invariably make mistakes) about how such a balance is reached to end the current blockade. But I would like to see this debate started and, if I can, participate in it as a citizen.

Among other things, it will be the result of this dialogue that will determine the future (re)occupation of our identity spaces and the way in which they will organize and live from now on.

Because the landscape is a vital process of symbiotic construction – beneficial or harmful to one or both parties, depending on the cases – in which a relationship is established between people and land, which mutually intertwine. The landscape is thus an autobiography of peoples, cultures, times.

As the “Survivor tree” demonstrates, the landscape does not stop in fear, because it is life itself that does not stop there.

Here at Lugar ao Sul, it has been recurrent and eloquently shown how in the past we have overcome similar adversities. With responsibility, with pain, it is true, but above all with growth and maturity.

Fear builds nothing. Except walls. And walls divide, not unite.

Having overcome the need for current sacrifices, do we want to continue to be separated?



Author Gonçalo Gomes is a landscape architect, president of the Algarve Regional Section of the Portuguese Association of Landscape Architects (APAP).
(and writes according to the old Spelling Agreement)