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Center for Spatial Information and Research

Use of Geospatial Techniques for Aesthetic Resource Inventories


Land use planning along shorelines is often required to consider aesthetic values as part of decision-making processes, which has resulted in various efforts to identify and quantify visual attributes of landscapes (Ayad, 2005). These have included various component-based field survey methods (e.g. Sommerville et al., 2003), surveys of visual preference based on photography and field visits (e.g. Morgan and Williams, 1999), as well as use of remotely sensed data and GIS modeling (e.g. Ayad, 2005). In Washington State, as in many other states, shoreline management programs require aesthetic resources to be protected. However, data pertaining to shoreline aesthetics are usually not available and standardized procedures for developing this data generally do not exist. As a result, shoreline aesthetic qualities are often not adequately addressed in many comprehensive shoreline management plans and inappropriate development continues to threaten these resources.

This project developed a methodology for assessing aesthetic resources for parks along marine shorelines in Washington State. First, an internet-based, scenic preference survey instrument (Wherrett, 2000) was developed based on a literature review of best practices (e.g. Daniel and Boster, 1976; Shuttlesworth,1980; Zube, Pitt, & Anderson, 1975).. The survey instrument combines digital aerial photographs, maps, and panoramic photographs in an application that can be used to gather spatially referenced data concerning shoreline aesthetic resources from stakeholders via a web-based, Likert scale questionnaire. This is accomplished by linking representative panoramic photographs, taken at the shore’s edge, to an interactive map modeled partially after a University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Great Lakes Circle Tour Project using OpenLayers (Hart, 2007).

The website was developed using Drupal content management system. Drupal provides a framework for creating user driven websites. The use of Drupal eliminated the need to develop user authentication protocols. Additionally, existing modules can be added to incorporate survey forms into the site and create georeferenced content. The site has panorama viewing functionality through the use of PTViewer, and interactive mapping capabilities using both Openlayers, for displaying Google Maps, and Bing Maps. Custom code was created by RGIS-PN to display the viewing direction of the panorama viewer on an interactive map. This interactive map allows users to visit representative coastal views as a tourist, as well as spatially locate and evaluate scenic amenities in a 360 degree panoramic view divided into four equal segments, each representing waterward, shoreward or alongshore views. All survey results are stored in a MySQL database. The results of the survey may be used to rank-order view directions, locations, and parks on the basis of scenic preference.

Geospatial techniques were developed to analyze the results of the scenic preference survey in conjunction with planimetric physical, biological, and cultural geospatial data. Using a 10 meter resolution digital elevation model that integrated top surface LIDAR data, viewsheds were constructed in ArcGIS for 40 locations. The viewsheds were divided into quadrants corresponding to the scenes evaluated in the preference survey. The quadrants were further divided into three zones based on view distance. These quadrants were then geospatially analyzed to identify and quantify the landscape characteristics in each distance zone, including available geospatial data for geomorphic types and conditions, vegetation cover, habitat information, shoreline alterations, land use, and distance of vista..

The project has been implemented as a pilot for five Washington State parks, representing a diversity of shoreline morphologies and cultural settings along the Puget Sound, and the internet application for collecting scenic preference data has been tested using response groups from lower- and upper-level university classes. The methodology will be further tested this upcoming year using the general public and park managers. The methodology has broad application for environmental planners, as the software and techniques developed in this research are useful for inventorying aesthetic resources in any shoreline environment.