What will the neighbors think? Cultural norms and ecological design
- ISSN: 01692046
- DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2009.05.010
Cultural norms for landscape appearance may affect preferences for and adoption of ecological design in exurban residential landscapes, a rapidly growing land use that covers a larger area than all other urban land uses in America combined. We conducted an image-based web survey of 494 southeast Michigan exurban homeowners to investigate the influence of implicit neighborhood norms as well as broader cultural norms on individual preferences for six alternative front yard designs ranging from conventional yards dominated by mown turf to mature native woodlands and native prairie garden designs. Respondents were randomly assigned to see images of one of three types of nearby neighbors yards: all conventional, all ecologically innovative, or a mix. They rated front yard design alternatives in one of these three neighborhood contexts. Both broad cultural norms for conventional front yards and neighborhood norms significantly affected homeowners preference for their own yards. However, neighborhood norms most dramatically affected preference: the rank of the most conventional and most ecologically beneficial front yard designs was reversed depending upon the design of nearby neighbors yards. We conclude that efforts to introduce ecologically innovative designs to metropolitan residential landscapes should approach change at the neighborhood scale in order to enhance initial success and long term cultural sustainability. We also note that individuals who innovate on their own properties may want to enlist nearby neighbors in similar innovations to create a threshold of cultural sustainability.