Our Ontario case study has been funded largely by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, under the supervision of Karen Landman, University of Guelph, and is being undertaken by Christy Hempel, PhD Candidate in its School for Environmental Design and Rural Development.
Ontario’s multifunctional rural landscapes are constantly changing due to gradually evolving environmental conditions, and in response to shifting expectations and social priorities. Changing demands historically stem from economic and demographic shifts, changing approaches to land and resource management, and renewal of infrastructure. In the last decade, in response to global economic and climate change imperatives, provincial leaders developed a strong instrumental policy, the Green Energy Act (GEA), to both incentivize and encourage construction of renewable energy infrastructure.
In the six years since the enactment of the GEA, industrial wind turbines (IWTs) have appeared abruptly in the countryside. Many support the legislation and applaud the new building program, although the tremendous spatial change which has resulted from new construction has also been met with fierce resistance and conflict; discourse has become polarized and bitter over time, and distress has escalated.
Arguably, for people living in the landscape, the greatest impact of IWT development is visual change. The issues are complex, as citizens have deeply rooted and often conflicting belief systems about energy development in general, and divergent views about what future development is likely to be harmonious with the character of existing physical and cultural landscapes. Effective siting of energy projects requires knowledge of landscape character, including the biophysical aspects of landscape, cultural values, and aesthetic experiences associated with ‘place’ . People’s response to changing visual landscapes is also considered subjective and personal, and there are few tools that help explain why citizens hold such divergent points of view.
Two innovative applications of Visual Q methodology using a series of evocative watercolour paintings were designed to explore visual landscape preferences in a large region. The first study explored general landscape preferences held by local residents, and a secondary study examined people’s response to wind energy landscape scenarios. This practical and efficient methodology elicited a strong response from participants, who were able to contribute their point of view in a statistically interpretable form. It is hoped that these results will provide decisionmakers with robust data upstream of landscape planning processes.