Tidy or Tangled: How People Perceive Landscapes

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The ways we choose to modify and manage the landscapes around us have enormous local and global consequences. Single-family houses now dominate the suburban landscapes of Washington, D.C., including Columbia, MD. These planned housing developments typically have a clean, tidy appearance with mown grass and trimmed shrubs. Unfortunately, this ordered presentation does not provide the ecosystem services that accompany an ecologically healthy, but often more disorderly landscape: cleaner water, air, soil, and happier and healthier residents. This paper investigates how people perceive a range of landscape types and how various intervention techniques might affect their acceptance or appreciation. Understanding the way people see the landscapes around them can help Columbia’s managers, planners, designers, and residents pursue riparian restoration efforts in their neighborhoods. Dozens of researchers, inspired by Joan Nassauer’s 1995 essay, “Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames,” have asked how culture and aesthetics contribute to our understanding of the ecosystem. This paper is organized along those research paths: aspects of evolution, neighborhood social pressures, the role of education, design and planning impacts, and ecological-aesthetic modeling.


Final project for PLSC480: Urban Ecology, Management of Urban Forest Edges (Spring 2016). Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Maryland, College Park.