Just because a residential landscape can provide ecosystems services that might provide public good, doesn’t mean the property owner values it. Quite simply, if it doesn’t look good, almost no one cares.
Of course the real picture painted from the results of a multi-institutional National Science Foundation funded research study is more complex. If we’re going to invest millions, even billions, of dollars into green infrastructure for the ecosystems services it provides, then how do you motivate private landowners to play? First by understanding where they are now.
What motivates homeowners when they think of their landscapes and the ecosystems services they provide? Do southerners value shade trees more than northerners? Do residents in rainy Seattle value their sponge landscapes that reduce runoff more than Arizonans living in an arid climate? Is the homogeneity of the American lawn and its care across the country an indication that American landscape norms mandate green, weed-free, clipped lawns? Does urbanization promote ecological outcomes that are similar regardless of the location of the yard due to market and cultural forces?
Results are based on 134 in-person interviews in six cities: Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix.
The vegetation and land management choices of the respondents show that beauty (aesthetics) and easy-to-maintain are the most important priorities for outdoor landscapes. Being weed-free is also highly valued. There was a bright line dividing those who rate a green, natural looking yard and neatness as important and those rating these factors as not at all important. Practically no one said a green, natural looking yard and neatness were of low importance. Translation: There is a population of homeowners who just don’t care about their landscape.
In terms of vegetation, respondents say the most important benefits are: 1) Plants suited to local yard conditions; 2) Plants that are neat and orderly and 3) Plants that provide cooling benefits. Next in line are: Plants that offer privacy, Plants that attract wildlife and Plants that are inexpensive. The least important benefits are: Plants that are native to the local ecosystem and Plants that provide food.
Just like other studies, this study shows that naturalistic landscapes with native vegetation are valued by some people but not by others. Driven by weather conditions, alternative landscapes and/or xeric landscapes have become more popular in some regions and the authors speculate that naturalistic landscapes are becoming more popular as a result.
When it comes to managing the landscape1) A green aesthetic and 2) Flowers are very important, followed by 3) A natural looking yard and variety of plants. Orderliness, support of soil nutrients and air quality are moderately important. Low priorities include: Regulating water drainage and reducing pollution, among others.
In support of the assertion that America’s yards and gardens are increasingly homogeneous, the study found that about three-fourths of the variables were not statistically different across the regions/cities.
There were interesting, if not always surprising, regional differences. Northerners value a yard’s low maintenance more than southerners; while southerners value a yard’s beautiful appearance more than northerners. Southerners also value the cooling ability of vegetation more so than northerners. Easterners valued low cost yards more than westerners. Easterners also valued local nature and the ability of the yard to regulate climate change more than westerners.
“Rather than trying to get people to care more about ecosystems services with ecological benefits, the most effective routes to sustainable behavior change involve working with existing values.” the authors write. It’s easier to move consumers from where they are rather than where they “should be.”
For instance, if a person doesn’t value ecological benefits of the landscape, focus on what they do value. Frame points that are important to them such as low maintenance landscapes through plant selection and management. Focusing on low-priority values alone will not succeed. Instead, pair ecosystems services that are highly valued with those that may attain policy or regulatory outcomes. For instance, pairing policy outcomes such as biodiversity, pollution reduction and offsetting climate change with values important to the homeowner, such as an aesthetically pleasing, low maintenance landscape design.
Landscapes must be designed to, as the authors write, “meet society’s anthropogenic priorities, even when promoting or planning for biocentric ecosystem services such as biodiversity or water regulation.”
As the authors write, “Just because an ecosystem service exists, doesn’t mean it’s valued by people.” Pretty matters too.
(January 4, 2016 NewTerrain)
Ecosystem services in managing residential landscapes: priorities, value dimensions, and cross-regional pattern Authors: K. L. Larson (primary)(Arizona State University) K. C. Nelson, S. R. Samples, S. J. Hall, N. Bettez, J. Cavender-Bares, P. M. Groffman, M. Grove, J. B. Heffernan, S. E. Hobbie, J. Learned, J. L. Morse, C. Neill, L. A. Ogden, J. O’Neil-Dunne, D. E. Pataki, C. Polsky, R. Roy Chowdhury, M. Steele, and T. L. E. Trammell. Urban Ecosystems DOI 10.1007/s11252-015-0477-1 http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/49323