Landscapes and systemic design: Po river Delta (Italy) case

Authors: Luisa Cattozzo, Leonardo Marotta

Landscape ecology
Landscape/seascape metabolism
Geographical systemic design
Blue economy

Po Delta is World Heritage since 1999 and MaB Unesco Biosphere Reserve since 2015. In this area, regenerative coastal landscapes are proposed. Those landscapes are that restore the environment and encourage long-term sustainability, increased biodiversity, and enhanced resilience. A well-designed regenerative landscape can also complement property value, reduce water and maintenance costs, and create seamless, yet visually pleasing, harmony with surrounding natural open spaces.
In this area impacts of climate change can be easy predicted effects, it is clear that a more resilient landscape will be imperative if local society are to adapt and respond to the challenges of the future. Robust ecosystems underpin resilience in landscape function. To achieve these, healthy soils, dune recover, better use and conservation of available rainfall, pragmatic use of vegetation and groundcover, and increasing biodiversity are key.

The necessity of matching structural expressions of ecological integrity with cultural perceptions is particularly highlighted, by reference to the cultural bases for landscape perception and management (Nassauer, 1997), the landscape archetypes (Bell, 1999), and to the concepts of cultural and ecotone landscapes (Farina, 2006). These are examined for their potential role in creating a new synthesis of nature and culture.
Development of a realistic vision for Systemic Design in a regenerative landscape depends upon understanding the peculiar circumstances of its physical geography and biogeography linked to local history, culture and economic system (Bistagnino, 2011). The regeneration is based on scenarios of potential vegetation and hemerobiotic state of an area (the magnitude of the deviation from the potential natural vegetation caused by human activities, see Eurostat, 2017). The regeneration is also based on integration between Firms, Agricultural and wild habitats in order to reach a Blue Economy approach (Pauli, 2017).

The Blue economy concepts and the Circular economy agenda, as a set of strategic objectives, offer principles and guidance to identify blue economy potential for Po river Delta and its urban, landscape and coastal processes.
Following systemic design approach, the local economy will be based on:
• coastal landscape regeneration;
• production of new materials (paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed);
• increasing resilience to climatic changes, sea level rise;
• design a new production environment with a Biofactory system integrating food, material and energy production. Proposed system (based on rice, hemp, wood, weeds, and shells) can be developed into a variety of commercial items including chemicals, paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Analysis of the state-of-art and configuration of sustainable development scenarios have been performed by adopting the approach of Geograhical Systemic Design: This allows local solutions to be addressed locally.

We have also built some project proposals in details: they go in the direction of re-generating agricultural lands. They can be considered as a sort of business model, that means that the benefits by migration from business-as-usual to new ecological based business models has been defined, by given the numbers of economical value outcomes.
These are long-term solutions as we wanted to contribute to improve the resilience of the studied area.
Project proposals are inspired by the Blue Economy and can be summarised as follows:

The beach dunes and beach areas can be rebuild using only a reshaping of areas and beach management.
In the back-dune area the regenerate wetlands (dominated by Phragmites australis) will became a multifunctional ecotope, acting from water depuration to salt intrusion barrier. In this area a regenerative agriculture is also based in aquaculture waste recycling (Morris et al, 2018) is integrated into design of a new ecosystem mosaic: rice (Oryza sativa) – traditional in the Po river Delta agriculture landscape – and hemp cultivation (Cannabis sativa) can be integrated with phramites grooves and willow shrubs.
A Quercus ilex forests and psammophyl vegetation in coastal areas can be redesigned in rural landscape. The dunes can be built as is mainly due to successional stages linked to it, herbaceous vegetation of grey dunes and mantles using mollusc aquaculture waste (production of calcareous shells from Mytilus galloprovincialis, Venerupis decussata, Tapes philippinarum).
The rice and hemp will be integrated with grassland with Vicia faba var. Minor in order to regenerate agriculture and integrate it with pasture activities (Ovis aries). Pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) will be growth in new woodlands (Quercus ilex forests).

Some of the benefits of proposed scenarios include:
• Reduction of flooding and sea storms risks.
• Effective erosion control.
• Reduced water consumption.
• Reduced maintenance costs and increasing local growth economy.
• Increased natural capital and ecosystem value.
• Elimination of chemical use.
• Reduced visual impact of development.
• Better soil conditions due to the use of native plants.

Soil health can be be built; depletion cannot be rectified by adding chemical elements to address identified symptoms. Carbon is a master variable within soil that controls many processes, such as development of soil structure, water storage and nutrient cycling. Every gram of soil organic carbon can hold up to 8 grams of water. Every regenerated are can increase from 3 to 5 tons of soil organic carbon per hectare.


Bell, S., 1999. Landscape: Pattern, Perception, and Process, Taylor & Francis, London, 344 p.

Bistagnino, L., 2011. Systemic Design: Designing the productive and environmental su­stainability, 2nd ed., Slow Food, Bra, 292 p.

Eurostat, 2017. Glossary: Hemeroby index­ned/index.php/Glossary:Hemeroby_index

Farina, A., 2006. Principles and Methods in Landscape Ecology:Towards a Science of the Landscape, Springer, Hedelberg, Berlin, 412

Morris J. P., T. Backeljau G. Chapelle, 2018. Shells from aquaculture: a valuable bioma­terial, not a nuisance waste product, Reviews in Aquaculture,

Nassauer, J., 1997. Placing Nature: Culture and Landscape Ecology. Island Press, Washin­gton DC, 202 p.

Pauli, G., 2017. The Blue Economy 3.0: The marriage of science, innovation and entrepre­neurship creates a new business model that transforms society. XLibris, Sydney, 275 p.

Presentation & paper

Posted: Oct-2018

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