Reclaiming the Suburban Landscape Reclaiming the Suburban Landscape The Next Step in Residential Sustainability
Faculty Mentor: Greg Jolley, Landscape Management
In recent years, the push for an increase in green spaces, particularly sustainable and native landscapes, has gained momentum. Across the United States, it’s not uncommon to see new parks and planters creeping their way into, onto and all around buildings and urban blocks. There remains, however, an area of great neglect. With all the progress achieved in the public sphere, there is still an unmet need in the private sphere. Our suburban lawns and landscapes seem either to achieve the paragon of verdant beauty (consuming inordinate amounts of time, money, water and pesticides) or realize the full meaning of sustainability (which here indicates unkempt lots full of weeds and dead spots, becoming eye sores and dealing a blow to property values). The ideal would clearly be a balance of the two: beautiful landscapes that improve quality of life and property value while requiring minimal investment and maintenance. Experience has shown that one primary barrier to the realization of this type of landscape exists in the minds of suburban homeowners. To so many, it seems that beauty and ease of maintenance are mutually exclusive. The purpose of this project was to create resource for suburban homeowners that begins to prove the inaccuracy of this opinion.
Before beginning development of the homeowner’s resource, we first spent a little time in validating the need for this research by proving that quality landscapes are even a desirable change in our suburban environment. A brief literature review revealed a significant amount of research that has been conducted showing the various positive effects of beautiful, sustainable landscaping (as well as the negative effects of the absence of landscaping). These effects include substantial financial gains1,2,3, critical environmental benefits, potent psychological influences6,4 and reduction in crime rates5. In general, the body of research suggests that quality landscaping contributes to a higher quality of life, both for residents and neighbors. A survey conducted in 2015 indicated that public sentiment supported these findings by emphasizing a desire for quality landscaping. According to the poll, 90% of home owners with a yard feel that it is important that it be well maintained and 84% of Americans report that quality landscaping is an important factor in deciding whether or not to buy a particular home7.
Interestingly, this study also pointed out the inadequacy Americans feel in implementing and maintaining a quality landscape on their own. 47% of those surveyed felt the need for professional help with their landscape7.
Having satisfactorily validated the need for this project, we turned our attention to empowering homeowners. Our aim was to provide a simple and succinct education on basic principles of design and sustainability, along with a few examples of how these principles can be applied. The geographical focus of our project was the Utah Valley. There were a few reasons for this focus. First, with the rapid expansion of suburban housing developments in Utah Valley, the need for quality landscapes is particularly important. Second, many Utahns have misconceptions about what sustainable landscapes are. It seems that the word ‘sustainable’ conjures images of gravel, sagebrush and cacti. In reality, the native plants of Utah valley allow for a much more verdant and diverse landscape. Finally, both of us (I and Professor Jolley) have experience with landscaping here in the Utah Valley.
Our finished product, a pamphlet, covers sustainability concepts such as the use of hydrozones, native plants and microclimates. It also discusses the basics of rain garden implementation and how to decide how much turf is necessary. Most of the sustainability section centers on the efficient use of water and selecting and siting plants where natural adaptations give them an advantage. While there are other aspects of sustainability (e.g. using trees for passive cooling), they did not seem as fundamental or universal to us in this particular application.
The design section of the pamphlet focuses on principles like theme, hierarchy and repetition as well as more practical matters, such as the creation and use of a functional diagram in landscape design. While many of these are very basic, they are the elements that are most often seen missing or distorted in landscapes that were designed by the homeowner themselves or, in some cases, a landscaping contractor. The key takeaway from both the design and sustainability sections is that the disciplined use of a few basic principles can go a long way in creating an affordable landscape that looks great.
The final section of the pamphlet includes three sample landscape designs done on actual properties in the Provo area. Each design showcases a couple of the design and sustainability concepts discussed in the pamphlet, showing how they can be applied together on smaller, suburban lots. In choosing the lots to design for, we tried to make them as applicable to the average homeowner as possible. Accordingly, the properties chosen range from 0.1 acres to 0.3 acres and represent a normal street-fronted lot, a lot on a cul-de-sac and a corner lot. Each property also represents a different set of needs, from a retired, elderly couple to a young couple with a couple young children. The desired effect is that a majority of homeowners in the Utah Valley could examine the sample designs and find patterns or elements that could be applied to their specific circumstances.
1Niemiera, Alex X. “The Effect of Landscape Plants on Perceived Home Value.” Publications and Educational Resources. Virginia Cooperative Extension, 1 May 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
2Chesepiuk, Ron. “How Landscaping Increases Property Values.” Irrigation and Green Industry. IGIN, Nov. 2004. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
3″Landscaping That Can Save You Money | AC Repair Largo.” Climate Design RSS. Climate Design, Inc, 28 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
4Velarde, Ma.d., G. Fry, and M. Tveit. “Health Effects of Viewing Landscapes – Landscape Types in Environmental Psychology.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 6.4 (2007): 199-212. Web.
5Kuo, F.E., and W.C. Sullivan. 2001. Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior 33, 3:343-367. 6College of the Environment. “Mental Health & Function.” Green Cities: Good Health. University of Washington, 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
7Schaumann, Lisa. “Americans Agree That Professional Landscape Help Would Allow Them To Have Nicer Yards, Says New Study.” Professional Landscaping Enhances Yards. National Association of Landscape Professionals, 18 May 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.