There's More to Landscape Than Meets the Eye: Towards Inclusive Landscape Assessment in Resource and Environmental Management

By Dakin, Susan | The Canadian Geographer, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

There's More to Landscape Than Meets the Eye: Towards Inclusive Landscape Assessment in Resource and Environmental Management


Dakin, Susan, The Canadian Geographer


Introduction

The consideration of aesthetic values in North American resource and environmental management is generally cited as having emerged in the 1960s (Priestly 1983; Dearden and Sadler 1989). With growing attention to environmental issues on the social and political agendas of the time, the quality--or, more fittingly, the deteriorating quality--of the environment round a place in the consciousness of North Americans. It was not long before environmental protection legislation was introduced in response to environmental quality concerns, most notably with the landmark US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 calling for 'presently unquantified environment amenities and values [to] be given appropriate consideration in decision-making along with economic and technical considerations' to assure 'safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings' (Cutler 1979, 13). Canadian policy in land use, forest practices and environmental assessment since then has included the need to recognize these intangibles, including the aesthetic dimension of environment.

Resource and environmental management and land-use agencies began to manage and plan for the aesthetic, conceived of primarily in visual terms as scenic beauty (and diminished aesthetic quality as visual blight). Practitioners measured and managed the 'visual resource' (e.g., USDA Forest Service 1974; Yeomans 1983), researchers studied people's perceptions of and preferences for landscape scenes (e.g., Shafer et al. 1969; Kaplan 1985) and theorists sought explanations for how and why we appreciate particular landscapes (e.g., Appleton 1975). Practical assessment techniques, management programs and research endeavours formed a loose but unified field, referred to here as 'landscape assessment' and by others as 'assessment of landscape quality' (Daniel and Vining 1983), 'environmental aesthetics' (Porteous 1982, 1996) and 'landscape perception research' (Zube et al. 1982). (1) By the 1990s, aesthetic considerations had become institutionalized--indeed, entrenched--in environmental and resource- management practice as visual resource management (VRM).

This paper challenges the dominant entrenched view of landscape aesthetics, which is beginning to be questioned in the literature (e.g., Sheppard and Harshaw 2001). In the first part of this paper, a context for the consideration of landscape aesthetics is established. The evolution of landscape assessment in environment and resource management is discussed, and a simple conceptual framework for organizing various approaches is offered. Next, an empirical study, in which an experiential approach to landscape was developed and applied, is presented. The experiential method and its outcomes are then discussed in relation to the conventional expert approach to landscape assessment, with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests visual-landscape management program as the exemplar. In the closing sections, opportunities offered by an experiential approach to supplement and enrich current landscape assessment and visual management, and to support and direct the reorientation of resource and environmental management more broadly, are highlighted.

The Evolution of Landscape Assessment

While the alliance of aesthetics and resource management is fairly recent, the idea of our environs as a source of pleasure or motivation for aesthetic response has been the topic of works of art, writing and intellectual thought in the Western world since at least the time of the ancient Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle (Eaton 1989). During the Sixteenth century, depictions of beautiful countryside came to be the focus of, rather than the backdrop for, painting and drawing. By the eighteenth century, these 'landscapes' found physical expression in the work of naturalistic landscape gardeners, such as Capability Brown. Throughout the nineteenth century, gardening and architecture, influenced greatly by Romanticism, were the dominant ways of manipulating the physical environment for aesthetic purposes. …

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