Exploring Symbolic Meaning in Landscaping Choices within a Desert City


  • Marena Sampson Arizona State University
  • Megha Budruk Arizona State University
  • Kelli L. Larson Arizona State University




Landscape preferences, place identity, symbolic interactionism, water conservation, urban ecology


Metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, provides an excellent opportunity to understand residents’ preferences for desert-adapted xeric landscaping. While much is known about the relationships between sociodemographics and broad environmental values on xeric landscaping choices, the influence of other variables remains unexplored, especially interactions with and attachments to the desert. We therefore examined the influences of recreational visits to local desert mountain parks and symbolic meanings associated with the native desert on household xeric landscaping preferences. Within a larger study, select questions captured socio-demographics, visitation to desert parks and open spaces, place identity, and xeric landscape preferences. Using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression, we confirmed that homeownership and a shorter residency predicted preference for xeric landscapes. Hispanics were less likely to prefer xeric landscaping. Interestingly, the novel factor of identity with the desert significantly and positively predicted xeric landscaping preference while visitation to desert parks and open spaces did not.Findings provide several important management implications. First, Phoenix has an opportunity to foster connections with the surrounding environment through its extensive desert mountain parks. Increasing connections between residents and the parks may help shift personal preferences to xeric yard types. Park managers might also work to further stress how household decisions can affect the desert environment. Second, park visitation alone may not suffice to create connections with the desert environment. Instead, park managers should focus on creating opportunities for visitors to recognize the unique, living aspects of the parks and build personal relationships with the ecosystem. Interpretation encouraging emotional connections to the desert environment may aid in fostering an identity with the desert. In addition, messaging and signage campaigns that link people to the parks may prove a novel way of combatting lawn water usage within desert cities. Given their opportunities to foster place identity, urban parks may be important influencers in promoting native plant landscaping. In conclusion, connecting people to their surrounding environments can influence preferences for similar landscape types at the household level.





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