Social–Spatial Analyses of Attitudes toward the Desert in a Southwestern U.S. City

Riley Andrade, Kelli L. Larson, David M. Hondula, Janet Franklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Land change due to urbanization often results in the loss of desert ecosystems. The loss of desert land affects ecological and social processes in arid cities, such as habitat provisioning, the extent and intensity of the urban heat island, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Understanding the human–environment dynamics associated with environmental change is critical to understanding and managing the implications of urban growth. Few studies, however, have empirically examined people’s attitudes about hot, arid environments such as deserts. The primary objectives of our study are to (1) identify how patterns of attitudes are spatially distributed throughout neighborhoods in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, and (2) determine how attitudes toward the desert are shaped by social and environmental attributes. We found that desert attitudes are spatially clustered throughout neighborhoods. Positive views of the desert are fortified in high-income areas and those near preserved desert parks, whereas negative attitudes are clustered in areas associated with lower socioeconomic status and in neighborhoods with relatively grassy landscaping. Negative perceptions toward the desert are stronger among Latino residents and in low-income neighborhoods, where environmental hazards, especially extreme heat, and the perceived risks associated with such hazards are more prominent. Overall, we found that factors shaping attitudes in arid landscapes, including socioeconomic status and social identity, are similar to those that shape attitudes toward urban forests and greenspace in more temperate environments. Understanding attitudes toward the desert can help strengthen the connection between the regional environment and the local community, ultimately encouraging land preservation in arid cities. Key Words: deserts, environmental attitudes, extreme heat, open space, vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1845-1864
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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