Exploring links between landscape perception and sense of place as a cultural ecosystem service through interviews and user-generated content

Authors and Affiliations: 

Flurina M. Wartmann, Geography Department, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Corresponding author: 
Flurina M. Wartmann

Attempts to capture cultural ecosystems services are strongly dependent on ways in which landscapes are perceived within and across cultures. In this presentation, I focus on an approach combining concepts and methods from human geography, cognitive psychology and geographic information science, to explore the link between landscape perception and sense of place as a cultural ecosystem service. Core to this approach is a combination of in-situ empirical methods with user-generated content (Purves et al. 2011; Guerrero et al. 2016). The methods used to gather information on how visitors experience and describe landscapes include free listing tasks, which capture variability in cognitively salient landscape elements (Wartmann et al. 2015; Sutrop 2001), and interviews on sense of place with 300 visitors in ten Swiss landscapes. For the same locations I extracted user-generated content in the form of Flickr image tags and web-content from hiking blogs. Analysis included open and structured coding based on aspects defined in landscape character assessments (Swanwick 2002) and using automated text processing for quantitatively comparing descriptions between different landscapes and data sources (Singhal 2001).
Free lists captured well the bio-physical elements of the landscape (e.g. lake, meadow), and also contained terms relating to sense of place (e.g. feeling at home, tranquillity), while the small web corpora were a good source for place names as well as bio-physical and cultural landscape elements (e.g. village, street). Flickr tags contained more perceptual aspects (e.g. reflection, green), but less content on sense of place. While the bio-physical and cultural landscape elements distinguished well between landscapes, the terms used to express sense of place did not vary strongly.
These results contribute to research on landscape perception and cultural ecosystem services in three ways. First, by showing that combining interviews with user-generated content provided semantically rich information about the perception and experience of landscapes and sense of place. Second, by identifying salient landscape elements with which ecosystem services may be associated. And third, by highlighting that despite variation in landscape elements, landscapes perceived as natural evoked a similar sense of place.
Assessing landscapes based on descriptions of people’s perception and experiences enables novel ways of defining the features to which ecosystem services are attached, taking into account the influence of language and culture in how people refer to landscape (Mark et al. 2011). This is particularly important for cultural ecosystem services, because as long as standardised assessment methods are lacking, we risk unintentionally fostering landscape planning and management based on services that are more easily quantifiable, but may be difficult to perceive for the general population, while ignoring services people notice but are not easily measured.


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Swanwick, C. (2002). Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland. Retrieved from http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/LCA/LCA.pdf
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