Contextualising landscape perceptions: the role of urban landscape, ecosystem and water system in formation of mental models of a stormwater wetland in Brisbane

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Context: Ecological design used for stormwater management—referred to as Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)—exemplifies how urban environments can benefit from mimicking natural processes to create multifunctional urban spaces. However, for WSUD to be successfully adopted, it must respond to community landscape perceptions and incorporate their preferences into the designs. Objectives: This paper investigates whether members of a local community form mental models of how broader urban systems work and whether these inform how specific WSUD landscapes are perceived. Methods: Semi-structured interviews with residents near a stormwater wetland in Brisbane, Australia, provided data to elicit mental models of the wetland and higher-order schemata of urban systems of which it is seen to be a part. Results: Interviewees perceived the wetland through the lens of four mental models: animal haven, generic water infrastructure, multi-user community space, and pressure valve for urban consolidation. Schemata of broader urban systems manifested in the mental models of the wetland itself. The experience of Millennium Drought, perceived ecosystem demise and urban consolidation policies were important influences. Conclusions: This research contributes to the understanding of cultural sustainability of ecological design. The results suggest that public acceptance of WSUD and ecological design may benefit from (1) site design that shows effort to tackle priority concerns of the local community, and (2) addressing elements of the understanding of broader urban systems that contradict messages about the site. More broadly, the study demonstrates the importance of context for landscape perception research and offers a method to explore it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2599-2617
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Ecological design
  • Landscape perceptions
  • Stormwater wetland
  • Water sensitive urban design

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