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.


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. 


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.


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.


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)