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Landscape, vegetation characteristics, and group identity in an urban and suburban watershed: why the 60s matter


As highly managed ecosystems, urban areas should reflect the social characteristics of their managers, who are primarily residents. Since landscape features develop over time, we hypothesize that present-day vegetation should also reflect social characteristics of past residents. Using an urban-to-suburban watershed in the Baltimore Metropolitan Region, this paper examines the relationship between demographics, housing characteristics, and lifestyle clusters from 1960 and 2000 with areas of high woody and herbaceous vegetation cover in 1999. We find that 1960 demographics and age of housing are better predictors of high woody or tree coverage in 1999 than demographics and housing characteristics from 2000. Key variables from 1960 are percent in professional occupations (+), percent of pre-WWI housing (−), percent of post-WWII housing (+), and population density (−). Past and present demographic and housing variables are poor predictors of high herbaceous cover in 1999. Lifestyle clusters for 2000 are very good predictors of high herbaceous coverage in 1999, but lifestyle clusters from 1960 and 2000 are poor predictors of high woody vegetation coverage. These findings suggest that herbaceous or grassy areas, typically lawns, are good reflections of contemporary lifestyle characteristics of residents while neighborhoods with heavy tree canopies have largely inherited the preferred landscapes of past residents and communities. Biological growth time scales of trees and woody vegetation means that such vegetation may outlast the original inhabitants who designed, purchased, and planted them. The landscapes we see today are therefore legacies of past consumption patterns.

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