Citizens prefer landscapes that combine nature with built infrastructure
A pioneering study analyses the photographs shared by citizens in social networks to evaluate the aesthetic consideration of natural landscapes.
In the province of Barcelona, the preferred images are those taken in urban and periurban environments that integrate green spaces with grey infrastructure.
Citizens prefer to enjoy natural landscapes that combine nature with built infrastructure, and that are close and accessible. This is apparent from the results of a pioneering study developed by researchers from the Institute of Science and Environmental Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) in which, for the first time, the preferences of the citizens of Barcelona have been analysed with regard to landscape aesthetics on the basis of photographs shared on social media.
Land-use policies and landscape planning developed by public institutions are increasingly taking into account ecosystem services, that is, the benefits that nature brings to society and that improve health, economy and people's quality of life. In this context, the non-material and subjective benefits that aesthetic landscape brings to the citizen's well-being are increasingly important.
The research at ICTA-UAB, carried out in collaboration with the Diputació de Barcelona, has deepened into this issue from a novel analysis of the photos of landscapes that citizens take and share on social media. The study is based on more than 130,000 photographs taken by more than 4,000 users in the province of Barcelona and shared through the Flickr platform.
The results show that, contrary to general belief, the presence of man-made infrastructures in green environments does not seem to negatively affect the aesthetic consideration that citizens have of the landscape. In fact, 57% of the photographs analysed presented "grey" infrastructure such as buildings, roads, bridges, railway lines or viewpoints, and the authors of the images sought the contrast between nature and buildings. Specifically, buildings appear in 41.4% of the photos, while forest and the sea elements appeared in 28.8% and 28.6% of the photographs respectively. "The study shows us that landscape aesthetics seems less dependent on 'pristine nature' than experts and planners assume, while the complex integration of green and grey landscape features plays a critical role", explains Johannes Langemeyer, author of the study together with Fulvia Calcagni and Francesc Baró.
Most of the preferred environments (more aesthetic) by citizens to shoot are coastal, urban and forest near the most populated areas, therefore in the urban and periurban areas of Barcelona. In particular, most of the photographs were taken in enclaves such as the Parc de Collserola and Montjuïc, in the periurban areas of Barcelona, as well as in the coastal areas. On the contrary, other inland agro-forestry landscapes, plain- agrarian zones and urban landscapes (with the exception of Barcelona) registered a lower aesthetic preference. Despite the distance from Barcelona, Montserrat was another favourite place. This is due to its tourist attraction and good access by public transport. And is that proximity and good accessibility by road and public transport are critical aspects when choosing a landscapes to enjoy.
The researchers highlight the importance of urban and periurban spaces as key providers of landscape aesthetics and stress the need for public institutions to take it into account when designing land-use and landscape planning.
The results of this study have also been used in a pan-European study on Cultural Ecosystem Services derived from Flickr data. Within the framework of this project, an interactive web application (https://maximelenormand.shinyapps.io/AHIA/) was conceived to provide stakeholders with a tool based on the analysis. But also it is oriented towards Flickr users "to give their data back" through the app that could become a platform in the future to share experiences from the photos and the visual content.
Langemeyer J., Calcagni F., Baró F. (2018). Mapping the intangible: Using geolocated social media data to examine landscape aesthetics. Land Use Policy, 77: 542-552. (Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.05.049)
Lenormand M, Luque S, Langemeyer J, Tenerelli P, Zulian G, Aalders I, et al. (2018) Multiscale socio-ecological networks in the age of information. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0206672. (Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206672)