Ana The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien The Science of Scenery: How We See Scenic Beauty, What It Is, Why We Love It, and How to Measure...
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Reviews / Comptes rendus The Science of Scenery: How We See Scenic Beauty, What It Is, Why We Love It, and How to Measure and Map It by Andrew Lothian, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017, 492 pp., $132.00 (ISBN 978‐ 1534609860). DOI: 10.1111/cag.12551 To quantify a concept like beauty takes courage. We find beauty in people, design, and places, and even hold it sacred; yet collectively, we re‐fashion standards of beauty and aesthetics constantly. Measuring and evaluating standards has been a consistent problem in landscape studies. How does one measure an inherently subjective concept such as beauty or aesthetics? In most cases, researchers have been limited to visual aspects of landscape qualities. I was hopeful that this study could move beyond that. Based on more than 30 years of experience as a planner for the South Australian Environment Department, Andrew Lothian has developed a method that attempts to objectively quantify subjectively perceived landscape qualities. His Community Preferences Method uses standardized photos of landscape features and asks participants to vote for them. The process can be entirely conducted online, with a survey that presents approximately 150 landscape photos and asks participants to rate their preferences of landscape components—e.g., water features, mountains, or savannahs—on a scale from one to ten. The core message of The Science of Scenery is that, though we normally understand beauty or aesthetics as subjective concepts, there are ways to measure them objectively. It is the author’s position that “only the subjective approach, that landscape beauty lies in the viewer’s mind, is valid for measuring landscape quality as it meets the scientific criteria of being replicable, objective in its assessment of subjective evaluations, is statistically rigorous and is able to define how accurately it represents the opinions of the wider population” (p. 467). The question is, does Lothian succeed? Of the 23 chapters, 13 provide an in‐depth review of how Euro; pean, Australian, and American perceptions of scenic beauty have developed over time and with each chapter adopting a different discipline’s lens—religion, philosophy, art, psychology, economics, and health. Lothian effectively illustrates the individual, regional, and societal influences that have shaped Western interpretations of an environment. In reviewing the history and typologies of landscape aesthetics and landscape quality research, Lothian misses the opportunity to look beyond Anglo‐European ideologies. With its providing a detailed methodology, as well as a case study on the English Lakes District, the book proposes a way of knowing scenic beauty that will appeal to environmental planners who feel comfortable in this domain. A question with which I struggled while reading the book is, should we measure scenic beauty? To have a quantitative means to measure landscape qualities could help us further develop the environmental tourism industry by identifying landscape qualities and building new programs around them. It could also help to identify the most desirable properties for developers of real estate. In the final chapter, Lothian highlights how his method can be useful in the placement of community projects like wind farms. While all of this is useful, applying a method that equates landscape qualities with beauty could damage the ecological integrity of a landscape. If we choose to preserve only the landscape components that the majority of community members deem beautiful, we risk neglecting or destroying the unappealing but ecologically sensitive landscapes. Lothian’s method risks becoming a tool for authorities to divert resources and to decide which landscapes to preserve, develop, or sacrifice for economic benefits. We must be careful that methods designed to measure beauty are not used in deciding matters of conservation or profitability. In conclusion, Lothian presents to the Western world a purely quantitative framework for The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien 2019, 63(3): e188–e19 DOI: 10.1111/cag.12551 © 2019 Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes e19 Reviews / Comptes rendus understanding the perception of beauty as a primarily visual experience. By focusing strictly on the immediate, visual preferences of participants, the Community Preferences Method is detached from affect, narrative, or other sensory experiences. Thus, the field of landscape aesthetics remains open for an The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien 2019, 63(3): e1–e2 author to move research into a more holistic and inclusive interpretation of beauty itself. Lauren Judge Wilfrid Laurier University