The Ecosystem Services of Residential Landscapes: A Delaware Study Site

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Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
This report describes research on a sustainable landscape intervention in Delaware that altered a residential landscape in order to enhance ecosystem services. This intervention was termed, “contemporary” landscaping. Data were collected on installation and management costs and a survey of perceived impacts to off-site residents was conducted. The landscape intervention occurred in the suburban “Applecross” development in northern New Castle County, Delaware. The affluent neighborhood has houses with large yards on lots of about 1.2 acres. The intervention sought to apply recent scientific advances to enhance ecosystem services, especially water quality protection. The intervention consisted of reducing the lawn space from 98% of the yard to less than 50%. Native plants and various types of land cover were introduced, including a constructed forested area and separate meadow. With this landscape intervention came many ecosystem services including: • Water quantity and quality improvements; • Aesthetic changes; and • Expanded habitats. The intervention cost approximately $32,000 to establish. Though high, this cost aligns with landscaping costs in similar affluent neighborhoods. An intercept survey of non-neighboring Delaware residents was conducted to understand public preferences for this type of intervention, particularly the off-site received costs and benefits of the altered ecosystem services. An additional, small survey was conducted with neighbors. The survey data show a majority of the ecosystem service changes were perceived to have a positive impact on people’s quality of life, though some had a negative or no effect. The most important impacts were found to be: • Undesirable wildlife might be present (negative); • Better flood control (positive); and • Better water quality (positive). The neighbors’ survey had an inadequately small sample, but generally matched the results of the other Delaware residents. In sum, the research shows that contemporary landscapes may possibly increase social welfare, but high establishment costs will preclude many landowners from adoption. Further valuation research is needed to determine benefits and cost estimates. The research suggests that even though contemporary landscapes are not prevalent, it may not be due to preference for traditional yards with extensive lawn space. Rather, there may be a mismatch between public benefits and landowner costs.