February 25, 2020

Understanding the American Lawn

“Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns. Fertilizing, mowing, watering — these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds of hours mowing your way to a designer lawn is to flirt, most would agree, with a bizarre form of fanaticism. Likewise, planting a species of grass that will make your property look like a putting green seems a bit excessive — yet not nearly as self-indulgent as the Hamptons resident who put in a nine-hole course with three lakes, despite being a member of an exclusive golf club located across the street. And what should we make of the Houston furniture salesman who, upon learning that the city was planning to ban morning mowing — to fight a smog problem comparable to Los Angeles’s — vowed to show up, bright and early, armed and ready to cut.“I’ll pack a sidearm,” he said. “What are they going to do, have the lawn police come and arrest me?”

Surprisingly, the lawn is one of America’s leading “crops,” amounting to at least twice the acreage planted in cotton. In 2007, it was estimated that there were roughly twenty-five to forty million acres of turf in the United States. Put all that grass together in your mind and you have an area, at a minimum, about the size of the state of Kentucky, though perhaps as large as Florida. Included in this total were fifty-eight million home lawns plus over sixteen thousand golf-course facilities (with one or more courses each) and roughly seven hundred thousand athletic fields. Numbers like these add up to a major cultural preoccupation.

Not only is there already a lot of turf, but the amount appears to be growing significantly. A detailed study found that between 1982 and 1997, as suburban sprawl gobbled up the nation, the lawn colonized over 382,850 acres of land per year. Even the amount of land eligible for grass has increased, as builders have shifted from single-story homes to multi-story dwellings with smaller footprints. The lawn, in short, is taking the country by storm.”

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