They are bad and symbolize bad things.
I know this article is over a week old which in our society is pretty much forever but I quote you on a daily basis when my wife and I walk our dog and look at all the f'ing wasted space in our neighborhood that could be trees, housing, bus lanes, or anything good for planetary health but nooooooooo we all gotta have our patch of green
Please do share photos of alternatives! We are bombarded with images and products to maintain our barren, lonely suburban lawns. The issue runs far deeper than marketing.
Hi, David-- I completely agree about lawns, and would add one more observation: a tidy lawn is a statement to your community that your life is organized and under control. Your private life might actually be dysfunctional, but a proper lawn will avert any unwanted attention. In my city, the more affluent the neighborhood, the more emphasis there is on a picture-perfect lawn--not only to display status, as you point out, but to prevent any suspicion that you might be slipping out of the unspoken contract. On the bright side, lawns have created an industry for recent immigrants, who can start a landscape business with a truck and a few tools. Best, Mike
Great rant and would love to comment more but there are some dandelions in the yard that need eradicating.
I do not live in suburbia, and I do accept much of your criticism of low-density housing around large cities. However, that is a zoning/land-use issue and has little to do with lawns per se.
Lawns also exist in small towns, where all housing is low density. You overstate the case against lawns per se. In my small-town midwestern neighborhood, I know of only one person out of 20 or so who has the kind of chemical-enhanced monoculture lawn of the type described here. Most people around here just trim the native grasses that grow and border them with flowers. I suppose you don't like flowers, either, since they take space and labor, with returns only in the form of dubious aesthetic values.
Yes, gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers are an annoyance and a source of carbon, but they are rapidly being replaced with electrics. There is some really great new, planet-friendly tech out there. How about something on the rapid spread electric lawn maintenance equipment and policies that might facilitate it? That would be great, appropriate to this newsletter, and constructive.
Well said! For me, Kuntsler's Geography of Nowhere is the best source on the problem - not of lawns, so much as the loss of public space due to our obsession with the private sphere and the automobile. You are right that a loss of a CENTER is the key. This is what Albert Borgmann calls a FOCUS and his work on 'devices' vs. 'focal things' and 'focal practices' is really good - if interested , it is in his 1984 book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life.
It's over a year later and this is still definitely a massive problem. Our department got to hear a presentation from a local botanist on her research for alternatives here in the Midwest, and this is pretty amazing: https://liz.kozik.net/rethinking-lawns/past/
I think lawns are less a status symbol and more about having one's own picnic meadow.
too bad the price of urban real estate has turned into an international investment commodity. Maybe the work from home revolution will see office space converted into much needed affordable housing in the walkable but pricey cities of America. Until then I will keep mowing my 1/3 acre with my electric lawn mower
Can I take a tiny slice of credit for nudging you a couple weeks back about drained-pool politics, suburban sprawl and climate change? Maybe not? Anyway, I live in the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland CA and most people here have eliminated their (admittedly small) lawns, and gone with some version of lower-maintenance, lower-water plant life. Some folks are doing full-on natives, which is where I am heading, and am about half-way done. Others are more flower-centric, but most do their own, and front-yard gardening is a big way to meet the neighbors! I love it! Meanwhile, where I come from out in the further suburbs, lawns are in full-effect, and people are still opposing multi-family zoning and BART extensions, in order to keep out ... those people. I hate suburbia, even though I know it's changing.
It may be a cliché, but what we have here, as in so many other areas, is a failure of the imagination. We're brainwashed to accept the existing paradigm and not to even imagine how things might be completely different. It's funny how tourists ooh and aah over the charm of surviving real cities (I'm thinking, randomly, of Annapolis, Maryland), but it never occurs to them that they could have something similar where they live.
As another commenter noted, James Howard Kunstler wrote the book(s) on this. His Geography of Nowhere is a classic. Also *highly* recommended: Suburban Nation: the rise of sprawl and the decline of the American dream.
This was great! Lawns are truly a wild concept once you step back for even a second and think about them. And the point on public spaces being critical to the health of urban areas was very well put.
I wrote something along similar lines about how we need to redefine the status symbols of wealth away from things such as lawns. https://www.climaticthoughts.com/zero-emission-aspirations/
Agree with this and glad Dave is talking about how the emperor has no clothes on this. And making all these good points before even getting into details of how lawns are recurring revenue schemes for lawn product agribusiness and how much vested interest they have in keeping so many people running on the hamster wheel of useless monoculture status signaling... https://www.thespruce.com/schedule-for-fertilizing-lawns-2132205
I have a lawn but don’t particularly want one. More info on how to do plant grow native and safe plants (no poison oak) would be good. Landscapers don’t offer up low water low maintenance native solutions.
The real reason we live in the suburbs is that it’s more affordable than the city. What I paid for a house here would not get me a condo or row house in a walkable part of the city. Much of Richmond seems to be 100 year old walkups with street parking and no real mass transit. What I would give to live in a dense walkable neighborhood in a modest height building with an elevator. We had that in DC. Couldn’t find it here. Buying a suburban house was far more affordable/ viable.
I want to move to a native lawn. There just is minimal info / support on how to go about that. Web sites just list 100 native plants and don’t say what they recommend, where to find them, etc.
I agree with you about front lawns.
Backyards, on the other hand, are really pleasant things.
I can't disagree with much in the rant. Definitely that landscape doesn't have to look like the lawn in your picture. In our case, 10K sq ft, so somewhere between really urban and classic suburban. The portion that's grass is easily mowed with human power (no ICE), even when the human is pushing 70. (I prefer to think of it as pulling 40.) No fertilizer, that just makes more mowing. No poisons, though I make a small exception for poison ivy. If you haven't experienced the results of exquisite sensitivity to urushiol, you don't get to comment on that. Don't talk to me about pulling by hand, which only poisons the human without solving the problem.
But, despite the pleasures of ranting, living space preferences are as complex as humans are, so feudal white supremacy, etc etc, may not capture all of it. The energy-efficient, more urban way means somebody's roof is someone else's floor, and the soundspace you live in contains dozens of people 24/7. Your sounds are theirs, and theirs yours, all the time. The stereo or whatever, the piano, and all the rest. If you don't lean toward that, and/or did not grow up with that, you may just plain dislike it. Historical and sociological exegesis is great, and not out of line, but it's also possible to over-analyze. (Of course, anyone is free to *define* feudal white supremacy as not liking urban density, but that risks being overly certain and straying into BS.)