Palm Springs Stripped Down & Natural

Progress is defined as the gradual betterment. The progressive development of humankind.

When the word progress pops into my head, I think advancing, building, growing. This is exactly what Palm Springs has done since it was named “America’s Desert Oasis” in the 1950s. Hotels, golf courses, lush landscaping, swimming pools all developed in a hot, dry desert.

Growth has continued – expansion to Palm Desert, La Quinta, casinos, more spouting fountains and 120 golf courses.

But it begs a question, has this been gradual betterment?

I think over the last half century we’ve forgotten our environment. We've deviated from the natural setting – in this case the desert. Instead of enhancing its natural offerings, we’ve created and continue to build upon this fantasy land of endless opulence.

Well, this well has started to run dry.

Water Shocker

Palm Spring’s infrasture was built on forever flowing cheap water. The city uses almost four times the CA average of water per person per day. 

Let’s look at the numbers from the CA Department of Water Resources:


  • Palm Springs (including Desert Hot Springs, part of Cathedral City) uses 736 gallons of water/person/day.
  • San Francisco uses 98 gallons
  • Los Angeles 152 gallons
  • The statewide average is 196 gallons.

So what is Palm Springs doing? Palm Springs is going back to the basics. It is taking a step back and reversing course. I’d say they're undergoing restorative progress. 

I spoke to Arwel Bermudo from the City of Palm Springs Office of Sustainability. Two points resonated.

The City is leading by example

Palm Springs has ordered 50% cut in water use by city agencies. The front lawn at City Hall and lawns at other city buildings will be replaced with native landscaping. The burbling fountain welcoming people at the airport will be removed. They are taking action.

Cash for Grass

Residents have been incentivized to remove their lawns and replace their grass with desert landscaping. The City has offered a $2 rebate for each square foot of grass removed. The community has taken advantage of this offer and the $1 million fund has been allocated. Let’s see how they continue to motivate residents to change. Because environmental change is happening, whether we like it or not.

My Main Takeaway: Let’s continue to be aware of our natural settings, design to the environment and lead with restorative progress.