A century ago, Phoenix sold itself as a lush, green oasis. Now, residents are beginning to embrace the desert.
The Valley’s formative years depended on it to market the growing city as an oasis in the desert, where newcomers would find luxuriant greenery instead of cactus. Residents were urged to “keep the desert away” by maintaining lush lawns and planting flowers during the early to mid-20th century.
Today mainstream messaging is calling the desert back in. Seven Valley cities pay people to ditch their lawns. Phoenix charges more for water during the summer, stacking the burden on homeowners that try to keep their grass. “Xeriscaping,” landscaping that requires little to no irrigation, has become a horticultural buzz word.
An acre of turf uses almost 70 percent more water than an acre of xeriscaping, according to the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, and proponents say low-water use landscaping provides a variety of options for color year-round and can attract native wildlife.
More than 10,000 households, homeowner associations and businesses have ditched almost 370 acres of turf through rebate programs since the late 1980s. But there could have been more: Demand has never outpaced available dollars in four of the cities and data show that much of the population doesn’t part with grass year-round.
Experts say the driving force behind Valley lawn removals is a gradual cultural shift, one tasked with reversing the very ideology that helped Phoenix grow.