As the Great American Suburban Experiment comes to an ignominious end, some of the suburb's most destructive totems are falling out of fashion. Garages are far less popular than they used to be, thank god. And now, it is time to take on the other suburban monstrosity that afflicts this great nation like a plague: lawns. Ban them.
Not all lawns, no. Some lawns are naturally occurring. Those lawns may be more accurately described as "nature." Lots of grass occurs in nature. If you build your house in a nice grassy field, you have a nice natural lawn. That's just fine. Enjoy your natural lawn.
Those are not the lawns that afflict America like a bunch of toxic little parasites. The Problem Lawns are the lawns that exist where there should not be any lawns. In the desert, for example. If you live in Arizona, or New Mexico, or Las Vegas, you have effectively, by your choice of locale, forsaken your claim to a lawn. You do not get to have a lawn in the desert, any more than you get to have a backyard nuclear reactor for your own amusement. Both are vast wastes of resources. There is a reason why cities throughout the Southwestern United States are now paying homeowners to permanently rip out their own lawns: lawns are bad for us all. We should not have gone to war in order to keep gas prices low for your gas-guzzling SUV; likewise, we should decline to wage the upcoming World Water Wars in order to provide you with a nice green lawn in front of your desert suburban home. (Golf courses— big lawns drowning in artificial chemicals for the exclusive amusement of the rich— should be also be banned.)
Start enjoying the look of sand. It's not bad.
There is a very simple way to determine which lawns can stay, and which lawns must go. First, a city should determine how much water can reasonably and safely be used by each resident, in light of the fact that we are mired in a horrific national drought that will only get worse with climate change. Then, our government agencies should determine which pesticides and fertilizers can safely be used in residential settings over the long term, based on environmental science rather than the aesthetic preferences of affluent suburbanites. Then, we wait. If your lawn survives without being fed copious amounts of precious water and chemical performance enhancers, great. You get a lawn. If your lawn dies, you don't get a lawn. Get a rock garden. They're very zen.
Lawns are a false idol. They represent the ancient American ideal of taming nature to our own ends— an ideal formed in a time before we realized that we had already "tamed" nature so much that we were going to destroy ourselves. The desire for a bright green, evenly clipped, thoroughly artificial lawn comes from the same place as the desire for strict dress codes, all white neighborhoods, and dead hippies. There is no better indicator of barely concealed authoritarian sentiment than a sweltering neighborhood full of neatly trimmed lawns. The sort of person who might take on the duty of enforcing homeowner's association lawn care bylaws is the same sort of person who would only pardon scorch marks on a lawn if they came from a burning cross.
We don't need to encourage that.
Americans do not use their lawns. Americans, collectively, are obese people that sit in air-conditioned houses watching cable television. Let's be honest: all of the millions upon millions of gallons of wasted water that we pour onto our beloved lawns do not go to benefit our children, who will be frolicking in the grass, or to enhance our communities, by providing a bucolic scene for neighborly interaction. Our kids play video games. We never talk to our neighbors. Everyone stays inside, with the climate control close at hand. The lawns that we expend so many resources on are primarily used for nothing but glancing at once in a while. They are the vegetative version of a coat of paint. And frankly, we can't afford them any more. We need that water to grow food and to drink and to help poorly planned drought-ridden cities like yours to not dry up and blow away completely. At this point in America's environmental evolution, diverting water to grow yourself a god damn lawn that shouldn't even be there in the first place is like using the water supply in a lifeboat to wash your hair. It simply cannot be allowed.
There's already a lawn that everyone can use: a public park. You don't get to use all the water so you can have your own park in front of your house just to look at. Stop being so selfish.
[Image by Jim Cooke]