Desert dreamscapes: Residential landscape preference and behavior

Larissa Larsen, Sharon Harlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


The residential landscape constitutes a significant portion of the urban environment. With the increasing mobility of our society, many people come to reside in environments with unfamiliar plant communities and environmental conditions. In this research, 232 Phoenix, Arizona homeowners were surveyed to investigate their residential landscape preferences and to what degree these preferences were reflected in their actual behaviors in their front and backyards. Landscape preferences vary between the front and backyard residential landscapes in a manner consistent with [Goffman, E., 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor Books, New York] about the symbolic presentation of self. When a multinomial logistic regression model was constructed to predict front yard landscape preference with the independent variables income, length of residence in the Phoenix area, degree of environmental concern and engagement in desert recreational activities, income was the only significant predictor. In the front yard, lower-income homeowners tend to prefer lawn, middle-income homeowners preferred desert landscaping and higher-income homeowners' preferences were divided between desert and oasis landscape. While backyard landscape preferences varied among income groups, income was not a significant predictor of backyard landscape preference. Landscape preferences for the front and backyard were significantly different and 55% of respondents preferred different landscape typologies for the front and backyards. Overall, for landscape preference in the front yard, form follows class-specific fashion. For landscape preference in the backyard, form is more likely to follow individual fantasy. Landscape preferences were then compared with landscape behaviors. One-third of respondents expressed landscape preferences that were different from their landscape behaviors. However, the development industry has a significant influence on the design and construction of residential neighborhoods in Phoenix [Kirby, A., 2000. All new, improved! Cities 17(1), 1-5]. In an effort to sell homes, developers' anticipate homeowners' tastes and package their homes with desirable front yard 'dreamscapes' [Jencks, C., 1993. Heteropolis: Los Angeles, the Riots and the Strange Beauty of Hetero-Architecture, Academ Editions, London]. Therefore, we hypothesized that the macro-level influence of the developer's landscape legacy would have a greater impact on the front yard's appearance (behavior) than on the backyard's appearance. For the front yard, both the legacy and the homeowner's preference were significant predictors of landscape behavior, but in the backyard, only the homeowner's preference had a significant influence. The manifestations of the residential landscape reflect expressions of self, status, and conceptions of place that combine to create little understood 'dreamscapes'. We must recognize the importance of the front yard as a visible symbol of self, the backyard's role as a personal pleasure ground, and the conflict that may occur when the natural landscape is relatively inhospitable to domestic behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-100
Number of pages16
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 15 2006


  • Behavior
  • Desert
  • Landscape
  • Preference
  • Residential
  • Symbol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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