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Attitudinal and structural drivers of preferred versus actual residential landscapes in a desert city


Residential landscaping decisions can have important implications for water use and conservation in urban areas. Yard preferences are generally closely related to actual yard landscapes, but differences in the drivers of and constraints on preferences relative to actual landscaping have not been well explored. In this study, we conducted a resident survey to consider the relationship between preferred and actual yard grassiness in the desert city of Phoenix, AZ, where outdoor water use makes up over two-thirds of residential water consumption. Using a robust theoretical approach including both attitudinal and structural drivers, we examined the relative importance of various attitudes as well as social and parcel attributes as drivers of preferred and actual yard grassiness. We found that nearly half of surveyed residents had less grass than they would prefer, and that existing yard grassiness is best explained by structural characteristics out of the variables we considered. Yard preferences, however, were better explained by attitudinal and social characteristics. The mismatch between actual and preferred yard grassiness revealed a latent demand for grass in this arid city, which could lead to shifts in water-conserving landscaping if structural constraints on landscaping behavior change. Additionally, the relative importance of structural constraints in determining actual yard grassiness, and the differences in important predictors of yard preferences as opposed to actual yards, suggest that appeals to resident attitudes and values are unlikely to shift yard landscaping.

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Fig. 1


  1. The fifteen random assignments were part of an experimental design by economist Kerry Smith, to test the impact of different incentives on survey response rates (Smith et al. 2016).

  2. Alphas calculated using the function alpha in R package psych v 1.8.4 (Revelle 2018).


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number DEB-1832016 (Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research Program, or CAP LTER), grant number SES-1462086 (Decision Center for a Desert City), and grant number EF-1638725 (Alternative Futures for the American Residential Macrosystem).

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Correspondence to Megan M. Wheeler.

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This work was carried out under the supervision of the Arizona State University Institutional Review Board.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Wheeler, M.M., Larson, K.L. & Andrade, R. Attitudinal and structural drivers of preferred versus actual residential landscapes in a desert city. Urban Ecosyst 23, 659–673 (2020).

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  • Turfgrass
  • Landscape preferences
  • Yard choices
  • Urban ecology
  • Environmental attitudes