From fragility to empowerment: new approaches to landscape community development after the adoption of UN’s SDGs

Aphrodite Sorotou, York Archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research Limited / Director,

Chris Dalglish, York Archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research Limited / Director,

Alan Leslie, York Archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research Limited / Director,


In 2015, countries adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Uniform approaches to development will struggle to meet these ambitious goals; we must take account of variable local contexts if development is to relate meaningfully to the realities of people’s lives. This symposium will showcase innovative thinking and inspirational practical examples from Europe and beyond, demonstrating that people-centred, place-based development focused on particular landscapes is essential to the delivery of the SDGs.  Symposium participants will contribute to the production of a policy paper and action framework on this topic.


Sustainability is about ‘us’, as individuals and as members of our at-once local and global community. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their 169 targets provide an ambitious set of objectives for the approx. 200 nations that have committed to them, including goals such as “no poverty” (Goal 1), “zero hunger” (Goal 2), “sustainable cities and communities” (Goal 11), “Climate action” (Goal 13) and “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems” (Goal 15). However, the SDGs have been criticized for being paradoxical, because all of the Goals are founded on achieving Goal 1 and because seeking to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” is often interpreted as requiring higher levels of global GDP growth (which can be seen, on the one hand, as a positive outcome but, on the other, as undermining attainment of the ecological SDGs). Furthermore, the SDGs ignore the local context by promoting a "top-down targets… [that] flout one of the most important lessons of development: that everywhere is different" (Economist, May 18th 2015).

Taking account of the local context is fundamental if community development is to occur in a way which is meaningful in relation to the realities of people’s everyday lives. Such development is not based on narrow, uniform approaches and plans, but builds instead upon complex and intertwined community capabilities and adaptation strategies, situated in relation to given particular environmental circumstances, prevailing cultural identities and people’s hopes and aspirations for the future.

Current landscape approaches – which are place-based and holistic in character – provide a starting point in focusing attention on the complex characteristics of particular landscapes.  However, they are often not sufficiently people-centred and fall short of enabling development of a kind which helps to meet a broad range of SDGs simultaneously.  They are thus not fully able to address complex interconnected problems such as inequality, poverty and environmental sustainability.

This symposium will showcase innovative thinking and practical examples of landscape and community development, demonstrating a range of current and potential strategies which respond to local and global challenges.  The symposium aims:

  1. to promote and support work which links the empowerment of fragile communities around the globe with development that respects landscape and human rights from a social, economic, cultural and ecological justice perspective;
  2. to explore new ground-up ways of developing landscape research and practice within the framework of the global sustainable development agenda; and,
  3. to outline ways of promoting the wider adoption and implementation of this innovative approach by communities, NGOs, governments and others (see section on impact below).

The symposium will include presentations and a workshop.  In the latter, symposium participants will discuss the issues and contribute to the production of a policy paper on the topic and to an outline framework for action to deliver people-centred, place-based development which is more fully appropriate to the on-the-ground delivery of the SDGs. 

What can participants expect to learn?

Participants in the symposium will learn about:

  • the challenges and short-comings of top-down approaches to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • the value of landscape approaches to the implementation of the SDGs at local level, as demonstrated by case studies of cutting edge practice;
  • models for the future delivery of people-centred, place-based approaches to development which delivers in a culturally, socially, economic and environmentally sustainable manner; and,
  • inspirational examples of practice both from within Europe and from other world regions. 


We propose to produce 3 outputs:

  1. policy paper, addressed to policy makers & decision takers;
  2. journal special issue (e.g. Landscape Research), addressed to professionals & academics;
  3. outline framework for action to deliver people-centred, place-based development, addressed to communities & relevant organisations.

To maximise impact, key partners will:

  1. collaborate on outputs 1 & 3 prior to the symposium;
  2. after the symposium: a) communicate output 1 to policy makers & decision takers; b) discuss output 3 with selected communities & organisations, use their feedback to refine the output & communicate the results to symposium participants & via social media/the web.