Urban residential landscapes are dynamic, varied, and complex, which makes their classification challenging (Grimm et al., 2000). Furthermore, the plant community, which is the basic unit that landscape ecologists use to classify natural landscapes, is not relevant to residential landscapes. A plant community is a group of plants whose constitution and relation to identifiable environmental conditions give them observable group identities (Hunter and Paysen, 1986). While several reports detail how large-scale (e.g., citywide) urban land cover is classified (Myeong et al., 2001; Richards et al., 1984), it is unfortunate that mainly descriptive parameters such as plant material type (Larsen and Harlan, 2006) and plant water-use characteristics (Yabiku et al., 2008) are used to classify the landscape around residences.
Larsen and Harlan (2006) toured eight Phoenix, AZ, residential neighborhoods and categorized landscapes in those neighborhoods into desert, lawn, oasis, and courtyard landscape types. They described landscape types but did not quantitatively classify the landscape type. For example, the desert landscape type was described as “a landscape that featured plants that appear consistent with the Sonoran Desert’s native plant palette.” Based on the type of vegetation and the presence or absence of an irrigation system, Martin (2003) and Yabiku et al. (2008) described residential landscapes in North Desert Village, Phoenix, AZ, as native desert, xeric, oasis, and mesic. The mesic landscape had no native desert plants, was sprinkler or flood irrigated, and had extensive turfgrass. In contrast, a xeric landscape had some native desert plants, minimal drip irrigation, and no turf (Yabiku et al., 2008).
There are solid scientific reasons to quantitatively classify urban residential landscapes. Godefroid and Koedam (2007) cautioned that many studies have failed to show a relationship between urban landscape type and plant species composition because the subunits of the landscape were not categorized quantitatively. Kenney et al. (2004) and more recently, Al-Kofahi et al. (2012a) showed that quantitative assessments of residential urban landscapes facilitate urban water conservation because accurate landscape water budgets can be calculated for those landscapes. Al-Kofahi et al. (2012b) established that accounting for the area and type of all individual materials within the landscape provided more accurate estimates of landscape water use than methods that neglected to do so.
Recognizing that urban residential landscapes change with time, are multidimensional, and heterogeneous because of human-generated plant groupings, we hypothesized that within a geographically defined area, a quantitative and repeatable method can be developed to classify urban residential landscapes. The objective of this research was to develop a quantitative and repeatable method to classify urban residential landscapes in a desert environment.
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