Monday, July 28, 2008

A New Backyard Model

Bradford Plummer at the New Republic comments on the idea of creating communal lawns as a way of building community, and the roadblocks that would get in the way of doing such a thing.

Not everyone wants to share a yard, of course, for a whole slew of reasons, but I do wonder if, with the rise in gas prices, we'll start to see more experimenting along these lines. Anyway, this reminds me to link to Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker essay on the cultural history of lawns. In Britain, lawns were originally seen as a status symbol, a preserve of the rich; nowadays, in many suburban neighborhoods, they're seen as a necessity, a patch of green to be trimmed and watered and doused in chemicals no matter how often you use it, because it demonstrates your commitment to the local community. (In Orem, Utah, one 70-year-old woman was even arrested recently when she fell afoul of local "weed laws" by letting her grass go brown.)

This started with a post by Jonathan Zasloff after he watched the Backyardigans with his son.

When you think about it, the front lawn is somewhat of a relic of 1950's family structure: Dad goes to work and the kids play on the lawn, supervised by Mom. But now, Mom is at work, too, and the kids are in child care. It is completely wasted space from a planning perspective--not to mention the extraordinary waste of water that comes from everyone having to manage lawns that they never use, gasoline from mowing, etc. Ditto with backyards.

So why don't more neighborhoods have this? Because in most suburbs, it's illegal: you can't share a lawn--there are setback requirements, fencing requirements, lot size requirements, etc. Developers won't build what they can't entitle. And so we assume that single-family neighborhoods mean far lower density, and transit accessibility, than we should.

Interesting notion which should be food for thought for designers of new communities. Communal lawns could inspire a feeling of safety that parents have lost much of today.

I have enough trouble dealing with my yard, as the warm weather and heavy spring rains, coupled with vicious invasive exotics, turns things jungle-like in a matter of days. Lucky there's no community associations in my village.

thanks to The Daily Dish for the tip.