Building ecology into the planning continuum: Case study of desert land preservation in Phoenix, Arizona (USA)

Joseph Ewan, Rebecca Fish Ewan, James Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In the past 20 years, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, USA has grown in area by 47%, with annexations totaling 156 square miles (404km2) - six times the size of Manhattan. Most of the annexations have occurred to the north of the city center. Urban and suburban development has been spreading across the relatively flat terrain, resulting in the destruction of an acre of desert land per hour every hour of every day. Consequently, desert land preservation within the expanding city limits has become an issue of great concern. Beginning in 1993 with a citizen's advisory group, a multi-governmental and interdisciplinary collaboration in preservation planning has been growing in an effort to keep pace with urban and suburban expansion. This article follows the evolution of preservation planning in Phoenix as a case study with particular consideration given to how landscape ecological principles have been integrated into an existing land planning structure. The case study examines (1) historic desert land preservation planning efforts, beginning with the establishment of South Mountain Park in 1925, at 16,500 acres (6677ha) now the largest municipal park in the nation; (2) more recent preservation planning efforts including a 1995 interdisciplinary charrette focused on desert preservation and alternative forms of urban, suburban, and rural development in Phoenix; (3) ecological inventories and analyses that have influenced the desert land preservation planning process; (4) the development and implementation of the Sonoran Preserve Master Plan, the plan for a 21,500 acre (8701ha) desert preserve in the north Phoenix area (NPA).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-75
Number of pages23
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 15 2004


  • Case study methods
  • City of Phoenix
  • Landscape ecological planning
  • Landscape preservation
  • Sonoran Preserve Master Plan
  • Sonoran desert

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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