Visual Resource Stewardship Conference

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 10-27-2019


For centuries, philosophers of aesthetics believed that beauty lay in the object, a physical entity. It was not until the 18th century, that British and German philosophers realized that beauty lay in the eyes of the beholder, in our mind rather than in the object. Contemporary theories of landscape aesthetics derive from an evolutionary perspective, what humans prefer is survival enhancing. The rapidity of aesthetic judgments, and the similarity of judgments across different individuals, reinforces its innate basis. Yet early attempts to measure scenic quality relied on measuring the characteristics of the landscape in the belief that somehow its scenic beauty would emerge, but it never did.

Based on psychophysics, the science of measuring the effect of external stimuli via our senses on the brain, researchers in the United States have achieved understanding of aesthetic preferences. Common elements include use of a rating scale, a rating instrument, and participants to rate scenes.

The Community Preferences Method (CPM) is based on these elements and has been applied to 14 projects in Australia and England. CPM involves photographing the area, classifying the scenic character, selecting photographs representative of its character, having the photographs rated together with scenic components, and applying the ratings to areas of the region with similar character. The paper discusses criteria for the use of photographs, the determination of scenic character units, and the contents of an Internet survey instrument to measure scenic quality.

The analysis of the survey results is discussed, covering demographics, familiarity, overall ratings, the influence of scenic components with many examples, the derivation of scenic quality models, and the mapping of scenic quality. Scenic quality maps derived from various projects are included.

Based on the findings of the projects undertaken, a draft scenic quality map of the United States was prepared. The simplicity, adaptability and robustness of the CPM demonstrate its utility and value in measuring and mapping scenic quality.