6 Principles of Influence

Why preserve a public landscape? If it tends to flow out of shape, why not see where it arrives at next? Sure, we can point to sunk costs, or simple esteem for familiar surroundings. Neither factor quite accounts for the relationships with landscapes that drive governments, parks staff, and preservationists to dedicate significant parts of their life to sustaining such large, sprawling, and essentially formless entities. See a landscape, then, in a vulgar key, as a corporate body, dedicated to its own continuance. Follow in the footsteps of renowned rhetorician Dr. Robert Cialdini, and see such a landscape as an influencer; a self-aware abcess ecosystem, forever nudging the parents and inhabitants on which it depends, in the manner of a cat passing on toxoplasmosis. Understand this creature through Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Influence.

Reciprocity

Landscape does you a favor, and you respond by sustaining it. A historic landscape testifies to everyone else that your place has value; that you are marked on the map; that you do not live in the undifferentiated world, the generic world, the consuming world, but the world of heritage, of contribution, of continuation. The mute world, the everyday world, suggests that you see only on a local highway, between a lumberyard and a gas station, an asphalt path and a patch of trees. But heritage can consecrate the ground; it can enchant any tract of land. We do not value landscapes so highly that we seek to raise their self-esteem; rather, we want a mutually productive relationship. According to Dr. Cialdini, as a resident sustaining the landscape, you will Bask in Reflected Glory that bounces from the attention on the space.

Commitment and Consistency

Once a designed landscape is carried out, it constitutes a contract. People want to seen as honoring the commitments they have explicitly made, and only escape such commitments with difficulty. No matter a landscape’s form, it must be maintained through repeated actions; this is as much a mystic rite as it is a practical matter. The maintenance of the public landscape is a duty that must be reaffirmed with every new budget, and every scaling back of a previous commitment is an occasion for recriminations. Visible deterioration reproaches any local passerby. In this way, our reciprocal commitment to the landscape becomes part of the public self. If such a landscape is designated as a memorial, the contract binds even more closely, for the landscape demands a higher degree of gratitude.

Liking

The face of a landscape is, in most cases, its value. Consider a Civil War battleground. If we want to remember it as a battleground, wouldn’t it make sense to rip it up, run gouges across it, blow holes in it, scatter mannequin pieces across it? But we wouldn’t care to live with the face of that memory; as we beautify our gods in picturing them, we beautify our landscapes in remembering them. As such, aesthetic value can be a force to secure commitment in the long term; but this is only baked into the landscape’s original form to a limited extent. Contrary to the entropy we tend to assume as inherent to landscapes, over certain spans of time they will shift to resemble their constituents’ scenic desires, waxing formal or naturalistic; and in doing so work to save their flesh, if not their skins.

Social Proof

After a certain point, the making of public landscapes becomes tautological. All communities have public parks because all communities have public parks. All communities need public parks because all communities need public parks. All communities have historical sites because all communities have historical sites. All communities need historical sites because all communities need historical sites. All historical sites are public parks because all historical sites are public parks. The visible presence of a public, historic landscape certifies the normalcy of the community.

Scarcity

However, it only does so much to be likable and to be like, like every landscape in every other city and town. If the landscape can demonstrate some distinct and induplicable trait, it can be honored in proportion to the value and rarity of that trait. This could be absolute or contextual; a prairie is worthless when it covers the Midwest, hugely precious when it persists in a forgotten joint between two farm properties. If the landscape leans on its similarity to its fellows in making an argument to persist, it balances this argument with an argument to its own scarcity.

Authority

Lacking a strong current of heritage, of sublime features, of fashion, the landscape will tend to be passive, and to accommodate, accommodating our lack of money, our lack of expertise, our lack of interest. Passivity builds upon itself as maintenance starts to slip. The cohesion of a landscape is, seen this way, an argument to authority; and as the children of Capability Brown found to their detriment, without a distinct face a landscape lacks the authority to sustain itself. 

(July 2017)