Landscape aesthetics and the scenic drivers of amenity migration in the new West: Naturalness, visual scale, and complexity

Jelena Vukomanovic, Barron J. Orr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Values associated with scenic beauty are common "pull factors" for amenity migrants, however the specific landscape features that attract amenity migration are poorly understood. In this study we focused on three visual quality metrics of the intermountain West (USA), with the objective of exploring the relationship between the location of exurban homes and aesthetic landscape preference, as exemplified through greenness, viewshed size, and terrain ruggedness. Using viewshed analysis, we compared the viewsheds of actual exurban houses to the viewsheds of randomly-distributed simulated (validation) houses. We found that the actual exurban households can see significantly more vegetation and a more rugged (complex) terrain than simulated houses. Actual exurban homes see a more rugged terrain, but do not necessarily see the highest peaks, suggesting that visual complexity throughout the viewshed may be more important. The viewsheds visible from the actual exurban houses were significantly larger than those visible from the simulated houses, indicating that visual scale is important to the general aesthetic experiences of exurbanites. The differences in visual quality metric values between actual exurban and simulated viewsheds call into question the use of county-level scales of analysis for the study of landscape preferences, which may miss key landscape aesthetic drivers of preference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-413
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aesthetic drivers
  • Amenity-migration
  • Arizona
  • Exurbanization
  • Greenness
  • Residential development
  • Terrain ruggedness
  • Viewshed analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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