Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Lawns Suck

In another prelude to the review for Robert Glennon's "Unquenchable," themacinator would like to point dear readers to a past post from way back in April of 2009. This post included an even older link to a July, 2008 Elizabeth Kolbert article about the sociological and environmental issues of grass. As in the green, green lawns that most Americans proudly and obsessively maintain in front of their houses. It's a must read, really, just like that Penn & Teller video was a must watch, and the Bizarre Survey I just posted is a must take. (Really. I know it's weird. themacinator is weird. All will be revealed, eventually.)

The lawn is a cultural status symbol, a cultural mandate, which makes it almost impossible to get rid of. (And it's not just in Celebration that this is true. Writes Kolbert
A lawn may be pleasing to look at, or provide the children with a place to play, or offer the dog room to relieve himself, but it has no productive value. The only work it does is cultural... A lawn came to signal its owner’s commitment to a communitarian project: the upkeep of the greensward that linked one yard to the next.

“A fine carpet of green grass stamps the inhabitants as good neighbors, as desirable citizens,” Abraham Levitt wrote...“Some feel that a person who keeps the lawn perfectly clipped is a person who can be trusted.”

Over time, the fact that anyone could keep up a lawn was successfully, though not altogether logically, translated into the notion that everyone ought to.
Meanwhile, the lawn has no positive environmental value. It actually has substantial negative value. The grasses that Americans use to beautify their lawns (because they have to, to keep up with Joneses!) are almost exclusively non-native, can't reproduce on their own, and require extensive watering. The United States is on the edge of a water crisis, Glennon explains, and our obsession with neatly trimmed is both a part and a symptom of this crisis. Not only do lawns require vast amounts of water, they also require extensive chemicals to maintain, chemicals that poison water, and the animals and plants that need that water. In our culture of grass, we use AND abuse our scare water resources.

My parents once converted their backyard to native plants. It was beautiful and much more environmentally sound. My back and front yards are, well, yards of waste, due to laziness and having no need for any kind of garden at all. I rake my leaves (and my neighbor's dog shit) when the mood strikes me. And I glare at vast expanses of lawn all over the city. But the thought of replacing lawns, or letting our yards "go to seed" sounds heretical, even in the East Bay. Read the article. Google "anti-lawn" for more information, and "freedom lawn" for some alternatives to icky grass.