Lawn People

Lawn People deals with an interesting topic for me: lawns seem such an aesthetically appealing idea, yet past that seem to serve little function. America has over 40 million acres of lawn, and is a 40 billion dollar a year industry, all in an attempt NOT to make the front portion of a house look good, but to KEEP it looking good.

What homeowners deal with when managing the upkeep of their lawns is plentiful: depending on your space and status, it takes time, effort, and money to get this all going. Trim the grass, pluck the weeds, water the grass, fertilize it, spray for bugs: it’s all a lot more work than one would think. But truth be told, it’s not always just vanity or a desire to keep things looking nice, sometimes its simple law. Neighborhoods and areas can have jurisdictions that require the upkeep of the lawn to specific standards, and there are even people assigned to making sure that residents do so in some places.

All this in an effort to make the neighborhood look nice. It’s the problem with two sides: one where the person needs to use time and effort in order to make his lawn acceptable to the people around him, even if it’s his lawn, and one where people don’t want to look at a lawn with brown patches and weeds. Lawns don’t need care per se, but they won’t be perfect otherwise.

The cost goes beyond that, even. The myriad chemicals used in lawn upkeep aren’t the safest around. The chemicals keep the lawn going, but they have side effects on humans, and have a strong link to cancer. Pets and children roll in the grass and bring it in, and the chemicals seep into the ground water. Surprisingly, people who use chemicals are more aware of its harmful effects on the local water quality that those who don’t.

What gets me is the desire for lawns in an area where they won’t naturally grow grass, such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Arizona. The excessive costs of water there make lawns extremely expensive, yet people insist on them anyway.

My own experiences lead to my own front yard back home and in my home-away-from-home in Michigan. My mother and father keep a driveway paved with stone slabs, and a small side lawn perhaps 15 by 4 feet on the side, with a bunch of potted plants on the side. It’s still something, but seems much more manageable. Still, the houses were probably designed with a different culture in mind, and are walled off. The other one to talk about is my aunt and uncles house in Michigan. Whereas most houses in the neighborhood have standard lawns, they keep a stone and gravel driveway, letting the grass grow wherever it does, and the rest is bushes, flowers and trees. They even have a small garden in the back, while refusing to spend on a lawn to maintain the same neighborhood image. Thankfully, most of the neighbors don’t mind, and there aren’t any local laws requiring it.

Overall I’m wondering again about the alternatives, mentioned in the book. Rock or plant gardens would work, which can give the neighborhood a little personality, assuming the community doesn’t have excessive restrictions. I’m particularly into astro turf, which provides the looks without the issues of maintenance and pollution/resource use. Why hasn’t it been adopted more widely? Out of a need for “the natural”?

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