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American Society of Landscape Architects


July 2008 Issue

Research Design Connections
Studies examine converting desert to lawns, playgrounds that make kids more active, how culture affects preferences for sun over shade, and mystery in forests.

By Sally Augustin

Research Design Connections

Landscape Architecture, in partnership with the web-based newsletter and daily blog Research Design Connections, uses this column to report current research of interest to landscape architects from a wide array of disciplines. We welcome your comments, suggestions about future topics, and studies you have encountered in your own practice.

Why Do Residents Change Desert Landscapes into Lawns?

Home landscapes in the American Southwest consume a tremendous amount of water every year, a fact that does not always influence residentsí preferences for outdoor plantings. In fact, residents of desert areas generally prefer relatively water-intense plantings around their homes, even though they claim to find desert landscapes aesthetically pleasing. A study by Scott Yabiku and his colleagues has found that a residentís gender, and the length of time he or she has lived in the desert, influences such preferences even more than pro-environmental attitudes.

In Phoenix, where this study was done, residents use 226 to 400 gallons of water per day, compared to the national average of 100 gallons per person per day. In Phoenix, outdoor watering accounts for 60 percent of total domestic water use. The large percentage of water home owners use outdoors makes their planting preferences significant, as landscapes composed largely of turf grass and shrubs require irrigation and more time to maintain than landscapes composed of desert plants. The current prevailing policy is to reduce outdoor residential water use to allow economic and population growth to continue in the area, yet residential water remains relatively inexpensive in Phoenix compared to other parts of the United States.

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