Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 735–749 | Cite as

Heterogeneity in Residential Yard Care: Evidence from Boston, Miami, and Phoenix

  • Edmund M. HarrisEmail author
  • Colin Polsky
  • Kelli L. Larson
  • Rebecca Garvoille
  • Deborah G. Martin
  • Jaleila Brumand
  • Laura Ogden


The management of residential landscapes occurs within a complex socio-ecological system linking household decision-making with ecological properties, multi-scalar human drivers, and the legacy effects of past management. Conventional wisdom suggests that resource-intensive turf grass yards are the most common landscaping outcome, resulting in a presumed homogeneous set of residential landscaping practices throughout North America. We examine this homogenization thesis through an interview-based, cross-site study of residential landscape management in Boston, Phoenix, and Miami. Counter to the homogeneity thesis, we find that yard management practices often exhibit heterogeneity, for example, in groundcover choice or use of chemical inputs. The degree of heterogeneity in management practices varies according to the scale of analysis, and is the outcome of a range of constraints and opportunities to which households respond differently depending on their existing yard and landscaping preferences. This study highlights the importance of multi-scalar and cross-site analyses of decision-making in socio-ecological systems, and presents opportunities for longitudinal and cross-site research to examine the extent to which homogeneity is actually present in the management of residential landscapes over time and in diverse places.


Residential landscapes Yard management Lawns Heterogeneity Urban ecology United States 



The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers and J. Morgan Grove of the US Forest Service for invaluable ideas and feedback. This material is based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant Nos. BCS-0948984, BCS-0709685, BCS-1026865, DBI-0620409, DEB-0423704, SES-0849985, OCE-0423565, and OCE-1058747, and through the US National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program, especially the Plum Island Ecosystems, Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Central Arizona Project, and Florida Coastal Everglades sites. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. The Clark University O’Connor’78 Endowment also supports this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edmund M. Harris
    • 1
    Email author
  • Colin Polsky
    • 1
  • Kelli L. Larson
    • 2
  • Rebecca Garvoille
    • 3
  • Deborah G. Martin
    • 1
  • Jaleila Brumand
    • 2
  • Laura Ogden
    • 3
  1. 1.Graduate School of GeographyClark UniversityWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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