Residents’ Yard Choices and Rationales in a Desert City: Social Priorities, Ecological Impacts, and Decision Tradeoffs

Abstract

As a dominant land use in urban ecosystems, residential yards impact water and other environmental resources. Converting thirsty lawns into alternative landscapes is one approach to water conservation, yet barriers such as cultural norms reinforce the traditional lawn. Meanwhile, the complex social and ecological implications of yard choices complicate programs aimed at changing grass and other yard features for particular purposes. In order to better understand individual landscape decisions, we qualitatively examined residents’ rationales for their preferred yard types in the desert metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona. After briefly presenting landscape choices across two survey samples, the dominant reasons for preferences are discussed: appearance, maintenance, environment, recreation, microclimate, familiarity, and health/safety. Three broader analytical themes emerged from these descriptive codes: (1) residents’ desires for attractive, comfortable landscapes of leisure encompassing pluralistic tastes, lifestyles, and perceptions; (2) the association of environmental benefits and impacts with different landscape types involving complex social and ecological tradeoffs; and (3) the cultural legacies evident in modern landscape choices, especially in terms of a dichotomous human–nature worldview among long-time residents of the Phoenix oasis. Given these findings, programs aimed at landscape change must recognize diverse preferences and rationalization processes, along with the perceived versus actual impacts and tradeoffs of varying yard alternatives.

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Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB-0423704, Central Arizona—Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendation expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF). We also thank Nancy Grimm, Marcia Nation, and Elizabeth Farley-Metzger for their support of this research, along with Larissa Larsen and Chris Martin for designing the landscape photos used in this study.

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Correspondence to Kelli L. Larson.

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Larson, K.L., Casagrande, D., Harlan, S.L. et al. Residents’ Yard Choices and Rationales in a Desert City: Social Priorities, Ecological Impacts, and Decision Tradeoffs. Environmental Management 44, 921 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-009-9353-1

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Keywords

  • Urban ecosystems
  • Residential lawns
  • Landscape preferences
  • Environmental perceptions
  • Water conservation
  • Resource geography