Legacy effects and landscape choices in a desert city

Kelli Larson, Jessica Hoffman, Julie Ripplinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Lawns are a traditional landscape choice in urban neighborhoods, and their pervasiveness results in extensive irrigation around the world. Focusing on the semi-arid metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, this paper examines residents’ actual and preferred landscapes for both front and back yards; specifically considering grass (mesic) yards, gravel-based (xeric) yards, and mixed (oasis) yards that include some grass and some gravel. Since xeric yards can conserve water, practitioners have promoted them as a drought-tolerant alternative to traditional lawns. Understanding the factors that motivate or constrain landscaping choices can facilitate the transition from lawns toward more naturalistic alternatives. This paper provides an original analysis of how legacies in the Phoenix region—including local landscape traditions and development history—affect yard choices. Using survey data and inferential statistics, we found that longer-term residents—as measured by the proportion of a resident's lifetime spent in the Phoenix region—more often chose grassy landscapes compared to newcomers. This is counter to the common assumption that newcomers to the desert prefer lawns; instead, long-time residents seem to be accustomed to the long-established luxuriant landscapes of ‘the Phoenix Oasis.’ Residents of older neighborhoods also chose grassier landscaping compared to residents in newer areas, who tended to choose xeric yards. Altogether, these findings reflect the lasting legacies that previous landscaping choices have in urban environments, where changes in preferences and practices take time. Ultimately, the legacy effects of past choices often persist, thereby impeding efforts to promote drought-tolerant and naturalistic landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-29
Number of pages8
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Lawns
  • Legacy effects
  • Residential landscapes
  • Urban ecology
  • Water conservation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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