Investigating Whose Grass is Greener in Phoenix, AZ

sprinkler in yard
Image Credit: Flickr/Steve P2008

Phoenix, Arizona has an oasis culture although it receives little water and has a semi-arid climate. In desert cities like Phoenix, irrigating residential grass lawns uses a lot of the scarce water supply and water conservation advocates push for residents to replace their traditional lawns with drought resistant land cover, such as gravel or succulents. In a recent analysis of survey data,Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER researchers found that both social norms and legacy effects—or residual effects from past decisions and trends—influence lawn preferences in Phoenix.

Legacy effects of the mid-1900s transition from grass to drought-tolerant yards affect the Phoenix landscape of today. Neighborhoods that were developed before this transition have mostly kept their grass yards, showing that changes in preferences and practices take time.

Social norms also affect residential landscaping in Phoenix. Unlike trends in the late-1800s and mid-1900s, present-day newcomers have more drought-conscious lawns than long-time residents. One reason for this could be the length of time residents are exposed to the Phoenix Oasis image. In other words, the longer residents are acquainted with the Phoenix culture of grassy lawns, the more likely they are to prefer at least a partially-grassy lawn.

Overall, this study shows that Phoenix landscaping preferences have changed over time, and are tied to both historical and societal characteristics of the region. The authors suggest that conservation advocates and urban planners should account for these factors in efforts to promote more drought-tolerant residential landscaping

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