Mapping landscape perceptions in the rural Midwest : 3D visualization and design of a regional rail-trail with ArcGIS

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Fraley, Jennifer R.
Hunt, Martha A.
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Thesis (M.L.A.)
Department of Landscape Architecture
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This project explores the design of a rail-trail in the Midwest utilizing visual preference methods with ArcGIS and 3D visualization technologies. It has been found that visually preferred environments are more enjoyable, more frequently used places that positively influence overall health of individuals and communities. Aesthetic attributes of environments, in particular, are directly related to overall physical, social, and mental health. Research conducted on environment, behavior, and human preference suggests that environmental settings can influence perceptions of quality of life, sense of place, and mental states, which affect stress levels, which are physically manifested in the body (Kaplan 1982, 1987, 1995, 1998; Lusk 2002; RWJF 2006; Shafer 2000).One way of providing healthier environments is by improving aesthetics according to the visual characteristics that promote understanding and exploration of the environment, specifically perceptual values of smoothness, density, and landcover type (Kaplan and Kaplan 1998; Brown 1994). This technique allows social issues such as public opinion and health benefits to be integrated with environmental and cultural issues to thoroughly address design and management solutions, especially in recreation areas. Spatial Analyst and 3D Analyst extensions facilitated the analysis by adapting the United States Forest Service visual analysis framework to the visual preference research to assess the use of GIS and 3D technology in a design oriented application. This included the addition of a 3D element to allow the designer to experience how a scene changes through space and time. Use of 2D, 3D, and animation capabilities of ArcGIS assisted in the visualization of landscape preference from the trail-user's point of view to assess the perceptual qualities of the landscape along the Cardinal Greenway.The project findings outline the capabilities of ArcGIS 3D Analyst and Spatial Analyst for mapping and measuring these perceptual and physical landscape qualities. The resulting design concepts reflect the findings of this study. It is anticipated that the process followed could be adapted and applied to recreation areas in similar geographic regions, and thereby advance daily recreation and lifestyle change for healthier individuals and communities.