Villagra Islas, P., & Felsenhardt Rosen, S. (2015). El paisaje urbano de emergencia en Valdivia, Chile: contribuciones a la planificación y diseño urbano post-desastre para la restauración. Revista INVI, 30(83), 19-76. Como citar este artículo
Revista INVI - Emergency urban landscape in Valdivia, Chile: contributions to the post-disaster planning and urban design processes within a restoration context

doi 10.4067/S0718-83582015000100002


Emergency urban landscape in Valdivia, Chile: contributions to the post-disaster planning and urban design processes within a restoration context1


Paula Angelica Villagra Islas2, Sylvia Cristina Felsenhardt Rosen3

2 Chile. Architect and Landscape Architect (PUC). PhD in Landscape Perception (The University of Melbourne). Assistant Professor, Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Evolutivas, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Austral de Chile.

3 Chile. Architect, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. MSc in Landscape Architecture, PhD in Architecture, Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña, Escuela Superior de Arquitectura, Barcelona.


The characteristics of landscape have a powerful effect on people and affect the way individuals use these features to restore its emotional state within the context of extreme situations. The latter becomes relevant in the case of Chilean cities exposed to natural disturbances that modify the landscape. The perception study that explores the urban landscape of Valdivia —conducted according to the principles of natural perception— revealed the emergence of a series of relationships between physical and social aspects during the post-earthquake emergency period. The presence or absence of water, vegetation, street furniture and architecture defined different categories of urban landscapes related to different uses such as shelter or evacuation, as well as different dimensions such as legibility and containment —which affect the way people inhabit a city during a state of emergency. The outcomes of this study were used to develop a conceptual model for the emergency urban landscape of Valdivia. Such a model reveals the latent role of the open space in cities exposed to severe disturbances and suggests different strategies intended to complement the planning and urban design processes in cities prone to natural disasters.




In Chile current disaster-related planning procedures have been mainly focused on resolving reconstruction issues from an engineering perspective. These procedures consist of mitigation initiatives4 implemented through reconstruction policies and instruments (such as Sustainable Reconstruction Plans and Master Plans) and are focused on the production of housing rather than on the reconstruction of the territory.5 In this way the interdisciplinary approach required for the implementation of disaster recovery planning6 has been cast aside. This territorial planning method goes beyond reconstruction as it refers to the integral recovery of human settlements through the identification and evaluation of physical, economic, social and environmental indicators. At a global level these references have been represented by different models of study. For instance the Disaster Resilience Place Model (DROP)7 was developed to operate at a national level; there is a second model that proposes the evaluation of adaptation in disaster situations over time8; there is also a third model that suggests a series of relationships between the public and private systems in order to ensure adaptation9; and finally, there is another model that proposes a general evaluation framework to assess any kind of threat.10

However, these models of study have been scarcely applied and have been recently criticized for being unspecific, highly conceptual, extremely qualitative and unrelated to community-level issues11. In particular there is a debate on the implementation of the above mentioned models in developing countries. Such a discussion is related to the adaptation of these initiatives to local issues12> —especially in the Latin American context13— and the absence of information about the dimensions and specific features required for their proper implementation14. Therefore there are doubts about the use of these plans in developing countries. This is why it is important to develop new models of study aimed at further exploring planning activities in disaster situations.

Against this backdrop, despite being ignored during the reconstruction process after the disaster, the network of open spaces emerges as an important component of the city at physical and social levels. This system which is composed of parks, squares and streets —among others— complements the reconstruction of housing, promotes the recovery of a community after a disaster event and has the potential to create an emergency urban landscape or “the place where restoration is being conducted”15. In this case, restoration involves human aspects, thus being regarded as “the recovery of psychological, physiological and/or social resources that have been reduced to such an extent that daily activities are affected”16. After a massive earthquake the network of open spaces of the city “is given a new meaning: spaces and their components are reevaluated (by people) on the basis of their capacity to support survival”17. As a result the emergency urban landscape is socially built according to the perception of a community regarding the physical aspects composing the urban environment.

In view of the contribution of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of landscape, which is regarded as a medial reality where territory, space and perceptions converge18, there are different studies in the field of environmental psychology that reveal the relationships between physical and social spheres. In this case a group of experts studied and classified the perceptions of a community in landscape categories, thus addressing the complex reality of a city. Garcia et al.19 explore this complexity in their characterization of an intelligent city in which the urban landscape is both adaptable, dynamic and provided with a series of symbols that are meaningful to the community, thus offering opportunities and meeting needs at different times and levels. Research on environmental psychology also contributes to the above situation as it explains why a community uses the landscape according to their needs and the characteristics of space.20 Within a post-disaster context, these needs reflect the characteristics of society and may vary from recreation, a daily life situation, shelter, medical care and the supply of water during crisis events.21 These characteristics are represented by the elements that make up the space such as vegetation, water bodies, topography and street furniture, among others.22

In this way the emergency urban landscape with its restoring capacity is composed of social and physical aspects, and hence understanding their interactions within a post-disaster context may help to complement the current reconstruction instruments which are exclusively focused on the production of housing. Likewise this approach may also contribute to the planning and design of resilient communities.23 It is worth noting that a resilient community is capable of adapting itself to the catastrophic consequences of a massive disturbance, such as an earthquake, without losing its physical and social aspects.24 During a post-catastrophe emergency the city undergoes unexpected changes that are not always wanted by the community. This emergency situation has been described as the period of time in which the social system is reorganized25, thus becoming a learning opportunity in terms of adaptation measures.

The working assumption of this research is that, during an emergency period, the community uses certain open spaces that offer the proper physical conditions for the generation of an emergency landscape with restoring capacity. These spaces are needed to provide information regarding a disaster-related recovery planning and contribute to the construction of resilience. From an environmental psychology perspective, we use the urban landscape of Valdivia as a case study in order to contribute to the interdisciplinary understanding of landscape. This research has three objectives: (1) identify the system of open spaces and the different categories of urban landscapes during an emergency period; (2) establish a relationship between the uses of landscape during an emergency and the physical characteristics with restoring effects on people; and (3) develop a methodology intended to replicate a post-disaster emergency urban landscape in other cities, thus giving rise to a conceptual model regarding this type of scenery. From a practical perspective this paper discusses how to provide information about the planning and urban design in the city of Valdivia. From a theoretical perspective there is a debate on how this approach is incorporated into interdisciplinary studies of landscape, which are relevant to the reality of cities prone to natural disasters.


Post-Disaster Restoration and the Emergency Landscape

After the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, the community gathered around streams in order to collect water and have a clear view of the mountains and the sea, which are key elements of the cultural geography of Japan.26 This system of open spaces ensured the availability of evacuation routes, meeting places, spaces for overnight stays and water supply, among others. Likewise, these spaces succeeded in establishing a relationship between the community and the elements of the environment that make up the daily landscape, thus facilitating the restoration process.

Apart from the example above, there is very little literature on the characteristics of the emergency urban landscape that contributes to the post-disaster restoration process. Ecology-based resiliency theory, thanks to its systemic approach27, serves as a contribution to this discussion. A resilient system that contributes to restoration efforts has redundant elements and flexible uses. In this way the elements of this system can be replaced if one them (such as a public square) is affected during a disaster event; this enables the system to cope with unforeseen situations. There are also efforts conducted through participative working methodologies28>; however, the outcomes of these initiatives are mainly focused on the production of housing. On the other hand, there are no references regarding the shape and physical characteristics of this system. “The characteristics or series of components of landscape that may prompt local authorities to make proper decisions about reconstruction” are still unknown.29 Below is a description of the characteristics of restoring environments. This offers the opportunity to discuss the outcomes of the case study addressed in this research.

Attention Restoration Theory30 suggests that natural —rather than developed— environments may reduce the exhaustion accumulated by daily pressures or crisis events, such as an earthquake. Within an urban context, and in order for restoration to occur, the physical environment should meet certain specific requirements which are not always satisfied. Indeed a moderate complexity —determined by the number of elements that make up the landscape with controlled points of view and defined focal points— and the predominance of natural elements such as vegetation and water have been identified as the characteristics of the restoring urban landscape.31 However there are some neglected, abandoned and dangerous landscapes with predominant natural features that cannot contribute to the restoration process.32

Such a process can also be affected by social aspects. Human beings do not only plan and design landscapes but also analyze them and make decisions based on what they see, know and feel.33 For this reason different communities have different perceptions of the landscape and its restoring features. In specific terms there are clear differences between the perceptions of men and women towards the restoring characteristics of landscape.34 These studies show that women tend to favor natural rather than developed landscapes. This concurs with the findings of perception studies that show that men and women have different experiences regarding the environment.35 In this sense while men prefer challenging landscapes —regardless of their natural or developed condition36— women, apart from preferring a natural environment, are influenced by the spatial configuration of the objects that make up the landscape37 as they pay attention to details, such as the presence of moss-like vegetation.38 There are few specific studies about the different uses that men and women make of restoring environments; however it has been said that there is no universal way regarding the use of space due to the dependency on physical and social contexts39.


Case Study

Chile is located in the subduction trench where the Nazca and South American plates meet. This means that the country is periodically affected by large scale earthquakes. The 2010 earthquake and tsunami destroyed entire towns along the central coastline of Chile (Constitucion, Dichato, Iloca and Duao, among others) and inflicted severe damage in inner cities such as Concepcion and Talca. Chilean cities are constantly threatened by these catastrophic events and Valdivia has been no exception: this city has been hit in 1575, 1737, 1837 and 1960.

Valdivia was founded in 1552 and constructed according to the Spanish checkerboard street plan. The city is surrounded by the Valdivia River, which is clean and navigable, and lakes full of birds and wild flora and fauna; features which turned the city into a beautiful place.40 However this urban landscape has been subject to various changes over time given the constant processes of reconstruction implemented in the aftermath of natural disasters. By 1885 most of State-owned lakes were filled-in and used for housing. The reconstruction process implemented after the devastating fire of 1909 prompted the rebuilding of houses and as a consequence the irregular extension of streets to rural zones, including hills and wetlands. However, the most dramatic changes underwent by the city of Valdivia took place in the aftermath of the 1960 earthquake. As the result of land collapse, new wetlands emerged beyond the then-limits of the city —today part of the urban area of Valdivia. These changes gave rise to a fragmented urban landscape composed of different open spaces rich in natural elements such as vegetation and water, which are highly important and valuable for the community41.



The methodological approach of this research is in line with the field of environmental psychology, in which people are asked to differentiate, categorize and identify the meaning of a given place.42 These meanings (uses) are not inherent in the urban space, but adopt the form of a social construct that depends on the needs of people in terms of their personal, cultural and historical experiences43.

This methodology relies on the Personal Construct Theory developed by Kelly44 where the environmental meaning is expressed through “conceptual frameworks based on constructs and categories” that organize and explain the perception of an individual regarding the landscape.45 It is proposed that human beings create a series of patterns in order to understand their environment and make sense of the stimuli they are exposed to. According to Kelly, these patterns are “constructs” that refer to dual relationships, for example such as beautiful-ugly; pleasant-unpleasant; organized-disorganized; and complex-simple, among others. A denotative construct refers to objective features of landscapes in relation to physical elements (such as the presence or absence of vegetation). On the other hand, a connotative construct refers to the subjective characteristic of landscapes (such as useful-useless characteristics). Each construct is a “dimension of landscape” that influences the perception of the natural scenery (vegetation, usefulness and complexity). Likewise these dimensions are organized in a hierarchical structure; in other words, there are some dimensions of landscape that have greater influence on the decisions made in relation to our environment. The conceptual framework of constructs and dimensions —or cognitive structure— is a code that classifies the environment through the relationship of physical and social aspects, thus facilitating their classification and understanding.46 This code also reveals the relationship that emerges between the community and the physical aspects of landscape during an emergency period and the restoration level derived from such an interaction. As an outcome of this methodology this paper explains the aspects of the urban landscape that should be considered during the reconstruction process.


Figure 1. Distribution of open spaces and pictures used during the study that represented the emergency urban landscape of Valdivia.

Source: Elaborated by the authors.



The selection of methods was based on studies47 that validate the use of landscape pictures as stimuli because of their convenience and effectiveness during the visual evaluation process.48 Through the use of the snowball technique, this research formed a sample of individuals working in governmental and non-governmental emergency units. Participants were asked to take part in an interview, which was intended to identify the urban places used by them and the community during a post-earthquake emergency period; the participation percentage was 98 percent (N=88). Identified places were photographed according to procedures aimed at representing the point of view of respondents in the area49. A total of 60 pictures were taken, printed on glossy paper (13cm x 18cm), numbered on the back and then used during the landscape evaluation interviews.



The pictures of landscapes were evaluated by the community non-expert in emergencies. Different non-probabilistic50 and sampling methods were used during this exercise, which was focused on people aged 18 and older. The Municipality of Valdivia provided a list of urban neighbor units to invite people to take part in the interview. Eighteen out of 27 neighbor units —which are homogeneously distributed over the commune— agreed to become involved in the survey. The sample, which was characterized by the balance between men and women (M=41.2 percent; W=58.8 percent), included a total of 152 participants who proportionally represented the 2002 Census (M=48.5 percent; W=51.5 percent). See Table 1. On the one hand, respondents come from middle and lower-middle socioeconomic backgrounds (96.6 percent) and have a low level of education (60.8 percent completed primary or secondary education, attended a course and/or obtained a diploma); these aspects are common to highly vulnerable communities to risk scenarios during a disaster.51 On the other hand, respondents are highly familiar with the context of the research as all of them live in Valdivia and visit the public spaces of the city on a frequent basis (75.5 percent of those surveyed visit these places one to three times a week or at least once a month) and 87.2 percent of them have experienced an earthquake. This experience suggests that respondents have greater post-disaster adaptation capacities as they know the environment they live in.


Table 1. Characterization of interviewees during the urban landscape evaluation process









Age Group

18-25 years


26-35 years


36-50 years


51-60 years


60+ years


Level of Education





University Degree


Postgraduate Degree




Frequency of Visits to Urban Public Spaces



Once or three times a week


At least once a month


Few times a year


Experienced an Earthquake





Socioeconomic Level

Higher (ABC1)


Higher-Middle (C2)


Middle (C3)


Lower-Middle (D)


Lower (E)


Source: Elaborated by the Authors



The community took part in sessions of two hours each to identify the characteristics of landscape that contribute to the post-disaster restoration. Firstly, the restoring components of landscape were evaluated through a Power Point presentation that included 60 pictures. By using the Likert 1-5 scale the characteristics of restoring environments, adapted to urban spaces52, were used as evaluation factors. These characteristics are (1) ‘Being away’ (BA); (2) ‘Fascination’ (FA); (3) ‘Compatibility’ (COM); and (4) ‘Coherence’ (COH). ‘Being away’ refers to the environments that provide the space to escape from daily life and disconnect from demanding mental activities; ‘Fascination’ refers to the environments that easily draw our attention. The concept of ‘Compatibility’ is related to the satisfaction of needs within a space with particular characteristics. Finally, ‘Coherence’ refers to the perceived order of landscape and the easy understanding of its structure. Added to these characteristics are the concepts of ‘Naturalness’ (NA), ‘Safety’ (SA) and ‘Preference’ (PR), which are regarded as control elements intended to evaluate the instrument and its relationship with restoring factors. The Cronbach Alpha Test was conducted in order to evaluate the level of reliability of the measurement scale; such an exercise provided high levels of reliability (>0.95) in all components. Secondly, the Multiple Sorting Technique (MST) was applied. This is an easy to conduct method that allows a flexible distribution of pictures53; in our case, this technique enabled the easy identification of the landscape categories defined by the community in relation to their use during an emergency. Each participant was shown a set of 60 pictures of places and asked to classify them according to the satisfaction of needs during a post-earthquake scenario. Participants described with their own words the use (meeting purposes, temporary housing, food preparation, etc.) and characteristics (open spaces, presence of vegetation, clear ground area, etc.) of these spaces and identified a representative picture for each sub-group; this enabled the visual characterization of emergency urban landscapes.


Data Analysis

The data gathered was encoded in different matrices for each respondent and later added to new matrices according to the similarity of pictures, valuation and descriptors of landscapes (in conformity to their uses and characteristics) that represented the perception of participants. These matrices were subject to a series of multivariate analyses that offer different forms of exploration and data aggregation; this facilitated the further categorization process and interpretation of results54 (Hierarchical Cluster Analysis [HCA]55; Multidimensional Scaling [MDS]56; and Principal Component Analysis [PCA]57). This method was conducted in order to identify landscape categories and landscape dimensions to finally associate them with the uses and characteristics of landscape described by participants; the result of such a procedure was the emergence of social constructs. The outcomes of the three analyses were represented in biplots (see Figure 2) or graphics that enable the exploration of the relationships among the different variables, in which landscape categories can be interpreted according to emergent constructs, thus identifying hierarchical landscape dimensions. These dimensions were then correlated with the restoring components of landscape.



Preliminary results showed significant differences (p<0.05) associated with the Gender variable. The ANOVA test suggested discrepancies in terms of the evaluations of men and women regarding landscape; FA (p=0.01), EA (p=0.01), COH (p=0.01), COM (p=0.02), NA (p=0.00), SE (p=0.02) y PR (p=0.01). These results confirm the difference between groups referred to in the introduction to this research58; this meant that further analyses of the cognitive structure of landscape were conducted according to Gender differentiation.


Categories of the Emergency Landscape and its Physical Characteristics

Results of the HCA generated two dendograms —or three diagrams—, one for men and the other for women. These diagrams suggest that the categorization of landscapes is similar in the case of men and women, since men and women classified the pictures into 8 and 9 landscape categories, respectively. However the content of these categories is different for each gender. In the case of women, they attach importance to infrastructure in terms of street furniture and other type of man-made elements such as buildings. The presence of water, either in the form of water courses or bodies of water related to paths and parks is another element that defines the use of landscape in emergency situations. In the case of men, the size of the open space —or the level of exposure or enclosure— and the presence of distinctive elements of the city such as architecture (churches, gazeboes) and natural landmarks (hills) are the characteristics that differentiate landscape categories during emergency periods. In the case of both men and women, the elements that cover the ground (ground-creeping plants, grass and rails) also influence the use of open spaces within a crisis context. This categorization exercise offers a preliminary set of denotative aspects of landscape that determine the way people make distinctions between different places. Figure 3 shows the representative image of some categories, which were labeled according to the dimensions described below.


Dimensions of Landscape and Its Uses during an Emergency Situation

Each category derived from the HCA analysis was included into one of the four solutions provided by the MDS. According to Kruskal and Wish59, the Stress and RSQ values associated with solutions are positive (0.05) and high (0.98), respectively. This suggests the availability of robust results, which are expressed in the adequate distribution of landscape categories and dimensions. PCA results enabled us to quantify the hierarchy of each dimension, which is expressed in the variance or the percentage of influence of each dimension on the way people use an urban space during an emergency. The table of components generated by this analysis (Table 2) enables the association of uses and characteristics with categories and dimensions.


Table 2. Significant components of the PCA analysis distributed according to dimension and gender












Collection of materialsa





Negative Aspectsa















Medical Carea





Uneven Grounda



































Meeting Purposesa





Housing Infrastructurea










Urban Infrastructurea





Street Furniturea





Even Grounda










Negative Presence of Watera





Road Purposesa
















Supply of Watera










Goods and Servicesa





Uneven Grounda






























Housing Infrastructurea





Recreation for Childrena





Urban Infrastructurea















Water Transportationa





Street Furniturea





General Transportationa





Even Grounda





Evacuation Routea




















Negative Presence of Watera





Presence of Vegetationa





Road Purposesa





Note: The uses and characteristics are highlighted in light grey and dark grey, respectively, and are associated with the dimensions of perception for each case (men and women). Importance was given to the highest values or their spatial location in the biplots. Positive and negative signs indicate harmony or opposition, thus revealing denotative and connotative constructs
The solution that includes the results of the HCA, MDS and PCA analyses —Figure 2— suggests that the categories located at the end of each axis were regarded as opposite by participants. This revealed the most important connotative and denotative constructs (adjusted according to Craik 60 influencing the perception of respondents. The final result, or biplots, incorporates differentiated categories of landscape, dimensions and constructs for men and women; these elements were jointly analyzed by two researchers (Table 2 and Figure 2).
Source: Elaborated by the authors


Each biplot revealed a series of dimensions and constructs that influence the perception of open spaces after an earthquake in the city of Valdivia. The biplot shown in Figure 2 describes the dimensions of landscapes 1 and 3 in the case of men. In this biplot the pictures represented by points and numbers are grouped into categories and enclosed within a segmented line. The categories located at the end of each axis represent the exact opposite of constructs (Figure 2: C4 and C3 in the case dimension 1; C1 and C5 in the case of dimension 3). The words described by participants are associated with each category according to statistical similarity. Light grey words refer to the most significant uses of landscape and represent connotative constructs (for instance, “meeting purposes”, “medical care” and “tents” contrasted with “useless”); dark grey words refer to the most significant physical qualities and represent denotative constructs (for instance “even ground” contrasted with “uneven ground”). These constructs allow us to identify the dimensions of landscape. For instance, in the case of men, dimension 1 refers to the “openness” of landscape, in which open landscapes are the most suitable spaces for the provision of medical care within an emergency context. These may vary according to the “enclosed”/”spacious” denotative construct, which is related to the “useless”/”useful” connotative construct during emergency situations. Likewise, thanks to its higher Variance percentage (23.23 percent), this dimension is at the top of the hierarchy.


Figure 2. Biplot obtained during the principal component analysis in the case of dimensions 1 and 3 for men

Note: This biplot (Stress= 0.05; RSQ= 0.98) is an example of the four biplots generated and interpreted during this research. The points and numbers represent the pictures of landscapes used during the interviews. Vectors represent the description given by respondents about the images of landscapes. Dark grey descriptions reflect denotative (characteristic) constructs and light grey descriptions reflect the most important connotative (uses) constructs according to Table 2. The closer the distance between points and words, the stronger the relationship becomes. Landscape categories found during the HCA analysis are represented by segmented, curved lines. Those located at the end of dimensions 1 and 3 determine the characteristics of these landscape dimensions and are represented by a distinctive picture.
Source: Elaborated by the authors/Pictures taken by the authors


In this way, the biplots served as the basis for the interpretation of landscape dimensions. In the case of men, dimension 2 (18.34 percent of Variance) is associated with the “Legibility” of landscape and refers to the elements that facilitate the understanding of a given area, which ultimately becomes a memorable place. This dimension is related to the distinctive developed elements of the city, such as the tower of a cathedral, turrets and silos that influence the habitability level of landscapes. In the absence of these elements, landscapes are associated with the collection of materials; on the other hand, in the presence of these constructions, landscapes are associated with the restoration of trade within an emergency situation. Dimension 3 (16.51 percent of Variance) refers to the “Complexity” or the number and distribution of elements. In this case, while landscapes with natural obstacles such as grass, herbaceous vegetation and ground-creeping plants —which are mainly found in wetland areas located on the outskirts of cities— are only useful for the collection of materials, clear ground areas are useful for the erection of tents. Lastly, dimension 4 (14.08 percent of Variance) refers to “Containment”, which is related to the absence or presence of forests. Places falling within this category are useful for the establishment of shelters —as opposed to exposed landscapes, which are intended for the collection of materials.

As for women, dimension 1 refers to “the Complexity of Land” or the number and distribution of elements. Unlike the case of men, the presence of obstacles may determine the level of usefulness of a landscape during an emergency situation. The next highest-ranked sphere is dimension 2 (21.25 percent of Variance), which is related to the “Legibility” of landscape. In contrast with the case of men, this dimension is interpreted according to the presence or absence of urban infrastructure such as seats and games for children; this differentiates landscapes useful for trade and recreation activities from those landscapes useful for the accumulation of rubble after an earthquake event. Dimension 3 (15.24 percent of Variance) refers to the “Accessibility to Water”; this differentiates traversable, clear ground spaces next to bodies of water from those landscapes with no access to water, which are suitable for the accumulation of rubble. Lastly, dimension 4 (12.87 percent of Variance) is related to the “Presence of Water”. Landscapes with minor surface watercourses, such as canals, were regarded as useful for the provision of basic services —such as water supply— during an emergency event. The opposite landscape, which is mostly paved and deprived of access to water— is useful for the provision of goods.

Once the HCA was conducted, the identification of the above dimensions enabled the description and labeling of each landscape category according to their uses (Table 3).


Table 3. Categories of Landscapes Described According to Their Denotative Characteristics and Usefulness during Emergency Situations



Denotative Characteristics



Exposed and complex landscape with obstacles

Wetlands with high level of gramineous vegetation

Collection of materials


Enclosed and complex landscape with obstacles

Small landscapes with no visibility. There is a predominance of vegetation and watercourses. Grass in poor condition, presence of ground-creeping herbaceous vegetation

No information available


Enclosed landscape

Landscapes with natural and artificial elements described as dangerous. Large presence of urban infrastructure and negative water



Spacious landscape

Clear and spacious ground areas. Predominance of short grass

Medical care


Simple landscape with obstacles

Landscapes with vast, clear ground areas either deprived of vegetation or covered with grass



Iconic landscape

Distinctive landscapes due to their natural environment and/or architecture, provided with urban amenities



Common and simple landscape without obstacles

Clear ground areas. There is a predominance of natural elements

No information available


Contained landscape

Landscapes with no elements. Presence of spaces with street furniture and vegetation. These spaces are descried as being provided with street furniture




Denotative Characteristics



Complex and inaccessible landscape without infrastructure

Periphery landscapes with no intervention or design. Large presence of grass, grass vegetation and herbaceous vegetation. Landscapes known as preparation spaces



Complex landscape with presence of water

Landscapes mostly covered with grass, grass vegetation, herbaceous vegetation and water. These spaces are described as having negative water

Supply of water


Landscape of moderate complexity and legibility with infrastructure

Distinctive landscapes due to their natural environment and/or architecture, provided with urban amenities but inaccessible as the result of being part of gated communities or private areas

No information available


Complex landscape

Landscapes with elements on the ground such as seats, stoppers, rails and/or uneven ground. These spaces are described as dangerous landscapes



Accessible landscape of moderate complexity

Periphery landscapes in relation to watercourses with a lateral street or coastal road. These spaces are described as squares, accesses and routes

General transportation; water transportation; evacuation route


Legible landscape with urban infrastructure

Distinctive landscapes due to their natural environment and/or architecture with urban amenities

Trade; recreation areas for children


Simple landscape without infrastructure

Landscapes with vast, clear ground areas with predominance of vegetal material

No information available


Simple landscape with infrastructure

Landscapes with vast, clear ground areas characterized by the balance between vegetal material and urban amenities such as benches and tables

Tents; housing


Simple landscape with no access to water

Landscapes with no physical obstacles on the ground. These spaces are described in terms of housing infrastructure

Provision of goods and services

Note: According to Table 2 and the PCA analysis, the uses associated with each landscape category are closely related to the dimensions of landscape represented by these categories. “No information available” suggests the lack of significant results.


Figure 3. Representative pictures of landscape categories regarded as useful within an emergency situation in the cases of men (M) and women (W)

C1 (H): Hualve Av. Francia

C5 (H): Cancha Donald Canter

C6 (H) y C4 (M): Plaza de la República

C8 (H y M): Parque Saval

C1 (M): Cerros de Collico

C2 (M): Estero Leña Seca

C5 (M): Helipuerto Sector Costanera

C6 (M): Parque Inés de Suarez

Source: authors.


Restoration and Dimensions of Landscape

Only a few of these dimensions are related to the restoring components of landscape. In a previous process, the high internal correlation (r<0.01) among the FA, BA and COM variables —according to Korpela and Hartig61— led to the creation of the SA subscale, which represents these three components. In the case of women, “Presence of Water” is the only dimension that has a positive correlation with all of the components (SA, r=0.629; COH, r=0.566; NA, r=0.545; SA, r=0.558; PR, r=0.606). This suggests that landscapes with minor watercourses (Table 3 [women], C2) have restoring characteristics, are perceived as natural, safe and contribute towards supplying the population during an emergency situation. In the case of men, the “Legibility” dimension is negatively correlated with “Coherence” (r=-0.439); this suggests that iconic landscapes (Table 3 [men], C6) with developed and distinctive elements contribute to the emotional restoring capacity that emerges in the aftermath of a disaster. On the other hand, the “Containment” dimension is positively correlated with all of the components (EG, r=0.629; COH, r=0.566; NA, r=0.545; SA, r=0.558; PR, r=0.606); this implies that, apart from being useful as shelters, landscapes surrounded by forests (Table 3 [men], C8) have a restoring potential and are perceived as natural and safe.

Table 4 offers a summary of these dimensions, constructs, uses and the respective correlations with the restoring components of landscape. This chart reveals a Conceptual Framework for the Emergency Urban Landscape of the city of Valdivia, which represents the perceptions of those interviewed. Such a proposal is backed by the robust Stress and RSQ values and the high variance values associated with solutions —72.16 and 70.65 percent in the case of men and women, respectively.



The study of the functions of the emergency urban landscape —which are expressed according to the use suggested by the characteristics of open spaces during a post-earthquake emergency— and its restoration capacities —which are expressed in terms of the potential restoring effect in the event of crisis situations— allowed us to understand the relationship between the physical aspects of these spaces and the satisfaction of needs during a post-disaster scenario; to this end, we used the city of Valdivia as a case study. In summary Table 4 shows that the emergency urban landscape with restoring capacity of Valdivia is composed of natural and man-made elements that configure landscape structures in which the presence of water, containment and legibility facilitate the recovery of the social and safety resources —such as the provision of water, goods and services, shelter and trade— affected after an emergency. This research also found other emergency urban landscapes which, despite not having a restoring capacity, should also be included in this discussion as they satisfy the needs that arise in the aftermath of a catastrophe. There are some landscapes with different levels of complexity and there are other open landscapes that provide access to water. These characteristics facilitate the erection of tents and housing, enable the use of water transportation as an evacuation method and allow the installation of medical equipment. Within the context of an interdisciplinary approach to urban resilience, these associations contribute to understand the aspects of landscape that are useful in terms of design and planning in Valdivia during an eventual reconstruction and complement planning and post-disaster recovery models.


Table 4. Conceptual Model for the Emergency Urban Landscape Differentiated by Gender

Dimensions of Landscape

Denotative Constructs

Connotative Constructs

Categories of Landscape



Dim 1

(21.29 percent)


Clear ground area / Presence of obstacles


Simple landscape with infrastructure (C8)

Tents; housing

Complex landscape (C4)


Dim 2

(21.25 percent)


(NA, r=-0.418)

With infrastructure/ without infrastructure

Inhabitable/ Uninhabitable

Legible landscape with urban infrastructure (C6)

Trade; recreation areas for children

Complex and inaccessible landscape without infrastructure (C1)


Dim 3

(15.24 percent)

Accessibility to water

Lack of access to water/ Access to water



Complex and inaccessible landscape without infrastructure (C1)


Accessible landscape of moderate complexity (C5)

General transportation; water transportation; evacuation route

Dim 4

(12.87 percent)

Presence of water*

(EG, r=0.629; COH, r=0.566; NA, r=0.545;

SA, r=0.558; PR, r=0.606)

Presence of water/Lack of water

Basic services/ Complementary services

Complex landscape with presence of water (C2)

Supply of water

Simple landscape with no access to water (C9)

Goods and services


Dim 1

(23.23 percent)


Enclosed/ Spacious


Enclosed landscape (C3)


Spacious landscape (C4)

Medical care

Dim 2

(18.34 percent)


(COH, r=-0.439).

Common/ Iconic

Uninhabitable/ Inhabitable

Exposed and complex landscape with obstacles (C1)

Collection of materials

Iconic landscape (C6)


Dim 3

(16.51 percent)


Clear ground area / Presence of obstacles

Uninhabitable/ Inhabitable

Exposed and complex landscape with obstacles (C1)

Collection of material

Simple landscape with obstacles (C5)


Dim 4

(14.08 percent)


(EG, r=0.629; COH, r=0.566; NA, r=0.545; SA, r=0.558; PR, r=0.606)

Contained/ Exposed

Uninhabitable/ Inhabitable

Contained landscape (C8)


Exposed and complex landscape with obstacles (C1)

Collection of materials

Note: This is a cognitive structure of open spaces for each case. Such a structure is explained from left to right in terms of landscape dimensions, denotative constructs, connotative constructs, categories of landscapes and uses. The variances of each dimension are expressed in percentage units. The dimensions correlated with restoring elements are marked with an asterisk (*).
Source: Elaborated by the authors


Considerations for the Restoration of the City of Valdivia after a Disaster

The importance of internalizing the daily esthetic of Valdivia in terms of its urban, social and cultural development has already been discussed.62 This research also revealed that the urban landscape of the city has a latent value that emerges during an emergency —similar to that found in international studies63— which provides the daily landscape with new meanings.

In the first place, it is important to point out the different perceptions of landscape according to men and women with regard to the use of space during crisis events, which are consistent with the results of other research on landscape.64 According to the perception of women the presence of water plays a central role and determines the use of landscape during crisis situations. In the case of men, the contention features of landscape define the use of spaces in the aftermath of an emergency. As for the role of water, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake65, ponds, fountains and water reservoirs became essential elements as the result of the interruption in the water supply. Though it will eventually not be suitable for consumption, water will be used in other daily activities. In Valdivia the community stressed the importance of minor watercourses as restoring elements. These bodies of water should be protected from drastic post-disaster interventions which —as in other national cases66— may radically change the structure and characteristics of the urban landscape.

There are also agreements between both genders. For the both women and men the legibility and complexity of the landscape are key elements that define the use of spaces. Legibility and complexity are landscape dimensions that explain the preferences and meanings —rather than the use— of urban places on a given daily situation from an esthetic and social perspective67. In this research both dimensions defined the habitability level of landscapes during emergency situations (Table 4); in other words they determined the minimum characteristics associated with the use of urban landscapes. Those spaces with high levels of legibility and low levels of complexity are regarded by Valdivian men and women as suitable places to stay after an emergency. In addition, legibility and containment —in the case of men— and the presence of water —in the case of women— are related to emotional restoration.68 The categories of landscape with the above characteristics and dominated by natural elements are positively correlated with natural and safe environments. This is consistent with the Attention Restoration Theory69 which suggests that natural landscapes have more restoring capacities than developed spaces. Hartig70 argues that the different opinions of interviewees may lead to the emergence of different types of restoring landscapes within a community. This is backed by the outcomes described throughout this research.

In specific terms since it is an element common to both genders the dimension of legibility —which varies according to the presence of street furniture and distinctive architecture— takes on a particular relevance. Lynch71 stressed the importance of legibility within the city and referred to this dimension as the extent to which an environment or an urban space are recognized and organized into coherent and easy-to-remember units. The findings of this research suggest that urban legibility plays the same role during the post-earthquake emergency in Valdivia in which distinctive elements —labeled as landmarks or points of reference— generate a shared image of the city that allows a community to adapt itself in physical and social terms in order to weather the crisis. Previous studies focused on emergency contexts revealed that the most suitable spaces for the gathering of people are those associated with the distinctive elements of the city (such as the mountains and the sea72). Indeed this research found out that places related to cathedrals, silos and turrets are remembered and then used after an earthquake. For the above reason it is important to take into consideration that, in the event of reconstruction, open spaces intended for the gathering of people will be easily evoked by the population.

The above is an important aspect in terms of the design of urban spaces within a restoration context, as these places should be required to have a legible and memorable structure. Therefore familiar places in which people are able to carry out daily activities, supported by proper spatial solutions capable of dealing with adverse situations, will be of great use. In specific terms, urban design may intensify legibility in the areas that concentrate high numbers of people after an earthquake event, such as squares and parks, thus ensuring the access to these places.

In general terms the observations about the results of this research support the ideas that suggest the lack of a universal perception structure associated with the use of spaces73. However there are common patterns or cultural codes74 that may emerge as a survival response75 to a crisis situation. Cultural codes affect the answers and the relationships between people and spaces.76 For instance, unlike an individual from Valdivia a person living in northern Chile may regard a forest as a complex landscape in terms of safety. This is why a generalized post-earthquake intervention should not be conducted; this should be borne in mind by planners and those in charge of urban design during the reconstruction process. In this sense, the mental image of people regarding the paradigmatic urban spaces of their climate or cultural zones —what they mean by the concept of square, path, park and safe, legible or enclosed space— should be adjusted according to the analysis of local answers.

The landscape of the medium-sized city of Valdivia has been heavily modified as the result of a series of natural and human-induced disturbances, is currently undergoing a rapid process of expansion and densification and has no emergency plan whatsoever. These characteristics are important in order to achieve a city that cares for its open spaces and is capable to adapt itself in the event of extreme changes without sacrificing the socially significant physical aspects of its urban landscape.


Towards an Interdisciplinary Restoration Planning within a Disaster Context

This study found a series of landscapes with the capacity to satisfy basic and social needs during a post-disaster emergency situation. These landscapes vary according to the perception of men and women, can be altered on urban interventions and have the potential to contribute to the planning and design of a “smart city”, in line with the description made by Garcia et al.78 referred to in the introduction to this research. Specifically this research identified 17 landscape categories; this suggests the elaboration of a system of open spaces with different typologies intended to incorporate the social dimension into urban planning. The valuation, protection and creation of places according to the characteristics identified by this research would make it possible to bring together urban functions and meanings, thus contributing to the planning process of the “smart city” of Valdivia from a complex perspective. Preserving this diversity of landscapes in the different neighborhoods of a city help maintain the redundancy of emergency landscapes in terms of the repetition of different components and uses, the latter being regarded as a one of the key elements of urban resilience.79 This redundancy in the urban space generates a robust and flexible fail-safe system. In this sense if a socially significant open space collapses after a catastrophe —or if the accessibility to this area is obstructed— there is another more suitable space that may replace the affected one. The availability of multiple landscapes with multiple functions that allow people to resume their normal activities after a disaster provides this system with variability and modularity. These are aspects that reinforce urban resilience80, which increases the adaptation capacity of both the city and the community.

The group of experts involved in the planning and design processes of cities exposed to natural disturbances should work towards achieving a post-disaster recovery planning; however, in the Chilean case, such an unquestionable initiative has not been properly implemented.81 In order to integrate the results and approach this research within an interdisciplinary framework and use such a theoretical content for practical purposes, we propose the incorporation of these types of studies into an analytical and reconstruction process aimed at environments affected by natural disturbances (Table 5). Apart from the need to have the proper regulations laid down in the Master Plans and Reconstruction Instruments, there is also a need of a series of policies and guidelines to ensure the achievement of post-disaster urban resilience. The benefits of the interdisciplinary approach to the study of landscapes in environments prone to natural hazards were highlighted in the introduction to this study, which was based on the work conducted by Spanish geographers.82 Ojeda83 proposes a method for the analysis of landscape based on the interaction among different disciplines; such interplay delivers territorial, spatial and perceptual keys for proper intervention. In this connection, Table 5 offers a series of “guidelines for the interdisciplinary study, planning and design” of emergency landscapes. These principles, apart from being associated with different intervention scales, suggest the most suitable experts for proper intervention.


Table 5. Guidelines for the interdisciplinary study, planning and design of emergency urban landscapes


Sphere/Scale of Action

Experts in Charge

1. Evaluate the type and scale of physical impact of natural disturbances.


Geologists, Geographers…

2. Recognize implications at socio-cultural and environmental levels.

Territorial, socio-cultural, ecological

Geographers, Ecologists, Biologists, Anthropologists, Sociologists, Architects, Landscape Architects…

3. Identify urban issues and potentials related to the case study (City)

Urban, socio-cultural and spatial

Geographers, Town Planners, Architects, Landscape Architects…

4. Identify and characterize useful places in the event of a post-disaster emergency

Urban and spatial

Geographers, Landscape Architects, Sociologists, Environmental Psychologists, Dwellers…

5. Characterize post-disaster urban landscapes

Urban, local and spatial

Landscape Architects, Environmental Psychologists, Dwellers…

6. Implement changes at urban and local levels

Urban, local and spatial

Planners, Town Planners, Architects and Landscape Architects…

Source: Elaborated by the authors according to Figure 1 (Ojeda)77


References to the study, planning and landscape design guidelines will depend on the specific recommendations of geographers and geologists (Guideline 1); they are knowledgeable in this subject and will report on the type and scale of potential issues. Then experts related to the physical, ecological, urban and social study of landscape will work on the identified issue (Guidelines 2 and 3). At the same time the specific work focused on the urban and spatial scales conducted by experts on local socio-cultural issues takes on major importance (Guidelines 4 and 5). Finally experts related to the planning and urban design processes (Guideline 6) become involved in this analysis. It is worth remembering the interdisciplinary nature of this exercise which is intended to elaborate reconstruction instruments complemented with the recommendations that emerge from prior studies.

In this set of guidelines the study of perception discussed in this paper is incorporated into Guidelines 4 and 5 thus contributing to this effort with a methodological proposal that includes the physical and social needs of the community. Such a proposal may be implemented in other human settlements with the proper adaptations suggested by the Guidelines outlined in Table 5. The results of these guidelines are important within the context of urban planning, the development of emergency plans and especially the configuration of neighborhood; the latter being an urban-social fact related to life and social behavior. Indeed in a post-disaster scenario people get in contact with each other since natural disturbances affect everyone in a “democratic” fashion. Therefore it is important for those affected to know their neighbors and have a neighborhood emergency plan that includes the suggestions of studies like this one in a preventive and palliative way.

Interdisciplinary teams should be incorporated into planning and urban design processes. In this sense the expertise of these teams should not only operate from the specific domain of each expert but also from a shared perspective in which the combination of different approaches is more than the sum of their parts. In this way urban and territorial planning, the design of public spaces and the construction of buildings appear to be coherently related to each other. Such an assumption is based on an accurate diagnosis of the country and its regions and cities in terms of economic, morphologic and physical-social aspects.



From a complex perspective this study addressed restoration planning during a disaster scenario. To this end the availability of physical space to conduct daily activities and the availability of urban landscapes that provide support to social groups were analyzed.

This research revealed a series of urban landscape categories regarded by a community as useful and/or restoring within the context of a post-earthquake situation. The importance of the relationships between the physical aspects of open spaces and their functions during the post-disaster restoration process —including the consequences on the urban design and planning processes within the context of a post-disaster restoration scenario— was discussed. In the particular case of Valdivia, the presence of water, street furniture and some memorable constructions are key elements of the open space that define the function of the urban landscape during emergency situations; this confirms the hypothesis suggested by this study. In some cases, these characteristics influence the adjustment capacity of the Valdivian urban system; in other cases, there may be other aspects that contribute to urban restoration during a post-disaster situation. In this way there is a need to conduct similar studies in other urban contexts and complement the limited national and international approaches to this issue, which propose generalized models —focused on the reconstruction of housing and mitigation initiatives— that are not sensitive to the local reality.

In this sense the design of these urban open spaces should be addressed thus ensuring citizen involvement through the implementation of a series of activities intended to obtain the perceptions of people. Such an exercise would help predict the behavior of dwellers on the basis of surveys and concrete exploration. This would lead to the provision of accurate recommendations in the event of escaping and finding shelter thus avoiding danger and ensuring the restoration of a community. The incorporation of these answers to the sensible interdisciplinary planning and urban design may deliver more integral results which in turn may contain latent aspects of transformation. The transforming capacity of the urban landscape, in which the regular use of spaces is altered in order to establish temporary settlements, may lead to the restoration of communities and human lives.



1CONICYT – Fondecyt Project 11110297 “Characterization of Resilient Urban Landscapes: Perception of the Public Space in Valdivia and Concepcion within the Context of an Earthquake” (2011-2013).
4Herrmann, 2014.
5Rasse y Letelier, 2013.
6ISDR, 2005; Resilience Alliance, 2010; Vale y Campanella, 2005.
7Cutter, Barnes, Berry, Burton, Evans, Tate y Webb, 2008.
8Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche y Pfefferbaum, 2008.
9Stewart, Liebert y Larkin, 2004.
10Tobin, 1999.
11Ainuddin y Routaray, 2012.
13Audefroy, 2003.
14Dunford y Li, 2011.
15Allan y Bryant, 2010. p.1.
16Hartig, 2007. p.164.
17Allan y Bryant, 2010. p.2.
18Ojeda, 2013
19García, Ojeda y Torres, 2008
20Scott y Canter, 1997.
21Ver, por ejemplo, Hayashi, 2010.
22Kaplan y Kaplan, 1989.
23ISDR, 2005.
25Resillience Alliance, 2010.
26Hayashi, 2010.
27Walker y Salt, 2006.
28See Zapata, 2003.
29Allan y Bryant, 2010. p.2.
30Kaplan y Kaplan, 1989.
31Hartig, 2007.
32Van den Berg, Hartig y Staats, 2007.
33Nassauer, 1995.
34Martínez-Soto y Montero y López-Lena, 2010.
35Bernaldez, Abello y Gallardo, 1989; Lehmann, 2001.
36Bernaldez, Abello y Gallardo, 1989.
37Silverman y Eals, 1992.
38Lehmann, 2001.
39Scott y Canter, 1997.
40Guarda, 2009.
41Skewes, Rehbein y Mancilla, 2012.
42Ittelson, Proshansky, Rivlin, Leanne y Winkel, 1974.
43Greider y Garkovich, 1994.
44Kelly, 1991.
45Canter, 1996, p.81.
46Ittelson, Proshansky, Rivlin, Leanne y Winkel, 1974.
47Canter, 1996; Real, Arce y Sabucedo, 2000.
48Stamps, 1990.
49Real, Arce y Sabucedo, 2000.
50Krippendorff, 2004.
51Rubio, 2012.
52Korpela y Hartig, 1996.
53See Scott y Canter, 1997.
54Real, Arce y Sabucedo, 2000.
55De Leeuw y Heiser, 1982.
56Kruskal y Wish, 1978.
57Cox y Cox, 2001.
58Martínez-Soto y Montero y López-Lena, 2010
59Kruskal y Wish, 1978.
60Craik, 1975
61Korpela y Hartig, 1996.
62Skewes, Rehbein y Mancilla, 2012.
63Allan y Bryant, 2010; Hayashi, 2010.
64Lehmann, 2001.
65See Allan y Bryant, 2010.
66See Rasse y Letelier, 2013.
67Kaplan y Kaplan, 1989; Lynch, 2000.
68Korpela y Hartig, 1996.
69Kaplan y Kaplan, 1989.
70Hartig, 2007.
71Lynch, 2000.
72See Hayashi, 2010.
73Scott y Canter, 1997.
74Skewes, Rehbein y Mancilla, 2012.
75Kaplan y Kaplan, 1989.
76Kelly, 1991.
78García, Ojeda y Torres, 2008.
79Walker y Salt, 2006.
80Allan y Bryant, 2010.
81Herrmann, 2014; Rasse y Letelier, 2013.
82García, Ojeda y Torres, 2008; Ojeda, 2013.
83Ojeda, 2013.



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Received: 04.04.14
Accepted: 20.01.15