A New Resource on the Visual Assessment of Landscapes

by James F. Palmer, PhD, PLA, FASLA

Research visualization
A visualization of the subject domains of 1,841 citations in the visual assessment and landscape perception literature based on keyword co-occurrence. The colored lines represent links between themes, and the size of the circle represents the frequency of occurrence. / image: James F. Palmer

Announcing: Landscape and Urban Planning Special Collection on the Visual Assessment of Landscapes Themes and Trends in Visual Assessment Research

Edited by Paul H. Gobster, Robert G. Ribe, and James F. Palmer

Landscape architects have been leading contributors to the academic field of visual landscape assessment research and to the professional practice of visual impact assessment. Landscape and Urban Planning has been the leading journal publishing this work, and it has now created a collection of 18 articles published previously that are representative of the 744 articles the journal has published in this field. The collection is introduced with a literature review about themes and trends in visual assessment authored by Paul Gobster, Robert Ribe, and James Palmer, all Fellows of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Through March 2020, the whole collection may be downloaded for free.


The literature review introducing this collection is based on 1,845 articles identified in the Scopus database related to landscape perception and visual assessment that were published between 1968 and 2018. The authors identify and characterize six themes in this literature, and selected 18 articles published by Landscape and Urban Planning that are representative of this field.

In the visualization above (click here to view it at a larger size), the colored lines represent links between themes, and the size of the circle represents the frequency of occurrence. The red cluster (n = 71) represents themes of landscape planning and participation, cultural landscape, landscape values, tourism and sustainable development, and rural landscapes. The green cluster (n = 37) represents urban greenspace, and visual preference. The blue cluster (n = 35) is visual quality, visual impact assessment, and visualization. The yellow cluster (n = 34) represents landscape and human ecology. The purple cluster (n = 22) represents landscape perception and preference, attitudes and psychology, and place attachment. The turquoise cluster (n= 22) represents forest ecosystem management.

Gobster, P. H., Ribe, R. G., and Palmer, J. F. 2019. Themes and trends in visual assessment research: Introduction to the Landscape and Urban Planning special collection on the visual assessment of landscapes.

Theory and Concepts

While the field has been grounded in empirical research, there have also been substantive investigations of the concepts that unify this research, as represented by these three articles.

Zube, E. H., Sell, J. L., and Taylor J. G. 1982. Landscape perception: Research, application and theory.

Daniel, T. C. 2001. Whither scenic beauty? Visual landscape quality assessment in the 21st century.

Jorgensen, A. 2011. Beyond the view: Future directions in landscape aesthetics research.

Visual Quality Assessment

This theme describes methods used to evaluate and map visual quality. These three articles represent the application of expert, public preference, and ecological metric approaches to this task.

Wright, G. 1974. Appraisal of visual landscape qualities in a region selected for accelerated growth.

Anderson, L.M., and Schroeder, H. W. 1983. Application of wildland scenic assessment methods to the urban landscape.

Schirpke, U., Tasser, E., and Tappeiner, U. 2013. Predicting scenic beauty of mountain regions.

Visual Impact Assessment

Scenic degradation was a significant driver behind the public interest in protecting the environment during the 1960s and 1970s; in the U.S., the National Environmental Policy Act solidified the consideration of visual impacts among other environmental impacts arising from federal actions. The three selected articles concern wind energy development, which is used to typify the complexities associated with visual impact assessment.

Thayer, R. L., and Freeman, C. M. 1987. Altamont: Public perceptions of a wind energy landscape.

Maehr, A M., Watts, G. R., Hanratty, J., and Talmi, D. 0215. Emotional response to images of wind turbines: A psychophysiological study of their visual impact on the landscape.

Yu, T., Behm, H., Bill, R., and Kang, J. 2017. Audio-visual perception of new wind parks.

Extending Dimensionality of Assessments

While the emphasis has been on protecting scenery, there is a growing awareness that there are other important ways in which people perceive and value landscapes. The three selected articles discuss the effects of noise as a complementary perception, and the restorative value of green space as another important landscape quality.

Jiang, L., and Kang, J. 2016. Effect of traffic noise on perceived visual impact of motorway traffic.

Grahn, P., and Stigsdotter, U. K. 2010. The relation between perceived sensory dimensions of urban green space and stress restoration.

Hoyle, H., Hitchmough, J., and Jorgensen, A. 2017. All about the ‘wow factor’? The relationships between aesthetics, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in designed urban planting.

Aesthetics in Multi-Resource Assessments

Landscape planning involves the consideration and integration of multiple landscape resource values. These three articles represent approaches to how visual quality can be included in holistic approaches to landscape planning.

Meeus, J.H.A., Wijermans, M.P., and Vroom, M.J. 1990. Agricultural landscapes in Europe and their transformation.

Alessa, L., Kliskey, A., and Brown, G. 2008. Social–ecological hotspots mapping: A spatial approach for identifying coupled social–ecological space.

Juntti, M., and Lundy, L. 2017. A mixed methods approach to urban ecosystem services: Experienced environmental quality and its role in ecosystem assessment within an inner-city estate.


A fundamental method for visual assessment is how to represent visual characteristics to landscape professionals, the public, or decision makers that are widely separated in time or space. These three articles discuss the challenges presented by the need for accurate visualizations.

Sheppard, S. R.J. 2001. Guidance for crystal ball gazers: Developing a code of ethics for landscape visualization.

Appleton, K. and Lovett, L. 2003. GIS-based visualisation of rural landscapes: defining ‘sufficient’ realism for environmental decision-making.

Orland, B. 2015. Commentary: Persuasive new worlds: Virtual technologies and community decision-making.

James F. Palmer, PhD, PLA, FASLA, is the owner of Scenic Quality Consultants and senior landscape architect with T. J. Boyle Associates, both in Burlington, Vermont. He is professor emeritus at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He will be speaking at the Visual Resource Stewardship Conference in Lemont, IL later this month.

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