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Planning for Change in Rural Ontario: Using Visual Q-methodology to Explore Landscape Preference

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Title: Planning for Change in Rural Ontario: Using Visual Q-methodology to Explore Landscape Preference
Author: Hempel, Anna
Department: School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
Program: Rural Studies
Advisor: Landman, Karen
Abstract: This study explored residents’ visual landscape preferences and values in the case study area of Grey, Bruce and Huron Counties in Ontario, Canada. Without a clear understanding of how landscapes are perceived by different groups of citizens, it is difficult to deliberate issues of aesthetics and landscape character when planning for future landscape changes, limiting opportunities for meaningful community engagement. The goals of the research were to develop new techniques to explore people’s subjective perception of the landscape, and of significant changes to that landscape as wind energy infrastructure is rapidly expanding in the region. First, an innovative Visual Q-methodology technique was designed to examine citizens’ beliefs and preferences about visual landscape character. The study used 35 watercolour paintings, created by the researcher, to elicit landscape preferences from a diverse group of 82 participants who ranked the images in order of preference. Four key factors emerged from an analysis of the results. Interpretation of these unique archetypal patterns provided a window to understand divergent ‘ways of seeing’ the same landscape, and how cultural (learned) and biological (innate) processes influence perceptions. Second, participants’ aesthetic responses to wind energy landscape scenarios were examined. The paintings used in the first study were modified to show wind turbines in varying settings, and were ranked in order of preference by the participants. Three factors emerged describing common patterns of how participants perceive wind energy landscapes. These findings also provided new information about sites for development that are most likely to be congruent and respectful of place-identity. Third, an experimental participatory mapping workshop was conducted to determine whether the results of the visual landscape-preference research might foster knowledge sharing and deliberation about diverse subjective values in a practical planning exercise. Using constraint-mapping techniques, 27 participants (planners, elected officials, wind developers, researchers and lay citizens) collaborated on identifying most- and least-preferred zones for future wind energy development. This study concludes that how we adapt to changing landscapes differs because of deeply rooted but differing place identities, but also that common ground is possible in a planning context when accommodating diverse landscape preferences.
Date: 2017-04
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