This paper presents a theoretical and methodological framework for a comprehensive landscape characterization, focussing on the largest and most complex urban realm: the metropolitan region. Landscape character has in recent years emerged as a new paradigm to understand, monitor and evaluate cultural landscapes undergoing change. The scope of characterization methods however, is by and large limited to the non-urban realm. In physical terms, the border between the urban and non-urban realms is becoming increasingly diffuse, particularly in metropolitan regions.
Metropolitan regions thus conceptually challenge the scope of landscape characterization, as cities can also be understood to be in and of themselves a form of cultural landscape. Moreover, territories where urban and rural realms merge, result in new ‘hybrid’ types of space that fall outside existing characterization methods. The method developed and presented in this paper is aimed at producing a comprehensive landscape characterization tool for metropolitan regions in order to understand, evaluate and monitor their spatial form. The method developed combines elements from conventional landscape character assessment with urban morphology, mapping, and cluster analyses.
The first version of the method was tested using the metropolitan region of Rotterdam and resulted in a preliminary categorization of thirty-six metropolitan landscape types. Twenty-four of the thirty-six types are defined as ‘hybrid’ or mixed landscape types, which occupy approximately 30% of the territory. Their make-up is determined by formal varying densities of topographic elements, land use categories, and heights. The hybrid landscape types that have emerged as a result of applying this method are of particular interest, as they were not recognized as a specific category by other classification methods.
The extent and character of these landscapes is not yet fully understood and therefore not used in the landscape policy forming. The method also reveals a substantial disparity between the assumed threshold of city and countryside in the Rotterdam region, and the one that has resulted from this study. The distribution of hybrid landscape types also shows that patterns of dispersion, diffusion, periphery and fragmentation have exceeded what is considered the peri-urban area of Rotterdam in administrative and planning circles.