May 14, 2013
Below is an analytical paper about the American landscape and the environment written by Jason Peist, Assoc. AIA
America! So spacious are your skies, amber are your grains, and so green are your lawns. These romantic and picturesque landscapes are instilled into every child through your patriotic songs, that it is no wonder the lawn has become an icon of patriotism. In pursuit of happiness, and of the white picket fence, the canvas of American expression has long been the front yard. These quests for the perfect demonstration of wealth and patriotism come at any cost, regardless of the impact on the environment and the social fabric of the community.
Grass is the American carpet which provides the framework for flower beds, shrubs, majestic trees and our homes. Grass is derived from the Aryan word ghra – the root word for grain, green and grow. The front yard is a family’s face towards society by which we can judge them and base our opinions. It is our modern caste system; the better manicured your lawn, the better off your family appears regardless of what lies behind your closed door.  The lawn is the barrier between two realms, the public street and the private home. It is the epitome of the American dream because it gives all people regardless of race or religion the opportunity to create the image of perfection. However, those who are truly capable of affording the perfect lawn rarely labor on it themselves; instead hire the less fortunate to do the work.
We value our grass almost us much as we value our homes. In fact the grass on our lawn accounts for 15% of the total net worth for a typical home.  We must declare the lawn as ours and solely ours. It is boldly stated with mailboxes that read our names, the fences built to separate us from our neighbors, the tulip borders along our sidewalks, and the chemicals applied to prevent unwanted pests from entering our lives. Man sets himself apart from nature as opposed to being a part of it by denying life and prosperity to the organisms that use his land. Ironically, proper maintenance is crucial for the value of your home, but not only the maintenance of your lawn, but also your neighbors. Unmaintained adjacent properties can depreciate the value of your own home. To help people cope with poor neighbors, many cities implement beautification programs which mandate proper lawn care.
The back yard strongly contradicts the front yard. The front yard is our formal face towards the community. It is stern straight forward and properly groomed. It is serious with defined purpose. We know the driveway as the place for the car, the porch as the transition between grass and flooring, the daisy lined walkway as the only path to the front door. The backyard is the opposite, it is silly and chaotic. We place our leisures in the back and barricade them with fences so that neighbors dare not see our imperfect side or bodies.We leave the backyard for fun for our children and our pets and as an oasis for retreat for adults. The backyard is the place for the Fischer-Price plastic cottage, the sandbox, and the Jacuzzi. Bare spots in the lawn are ideally good because they demonstrate use of the land. The bare areas show the places of dense traffic.
The suburb is a characterization of the urban and natural worlds. It takes on the idealized characteristics of each situation while ignoring the less desirable parts. The suburb keeps the close knit neighborhood like atmosphere seen in successful urban areas. They are also located conveniently close to resources. The suburb holds the being in contact with nature part of the rural landscape, but this nature is artificial, planted, manicured and heavily fertilized.
The competition for the perfect lawn leads to heavily chemical produced lawns which run off and pollute the environment. Globally in 1997 over $37 billion dollars were spent on pesticides. Rachel Carson first spoke about the dangers of pesticides, especially DDT in her essay entitled, “Silent Spring.” She goes on to talk about how DDT has put in danger the epitome of the United States, the bald eagle. The use of DDT made it impossible for the eagle to breed. “Conventionally maintained lawns are sterile, unhealthy habitat’s that consume time and precious resources and poison watersheds.”  The use of pesticides has rendered the United States sterile, right down to the symbol of our nation.
Greener grass does not equal a greener environment. We impact our environment in a multitude of ways. Several issues that will affect our future are the reduction of habitat and the increasing of global warming. Lawn care is a major factor affecting our environment. Chemical runoff from pesticides and fertilizers pollute our streams and underground springs. These pollutants travel throughout the food chain and cycle back to affect us in the plants and food we eat. We change our environment by planting non-native plants that do not provide food for native species and are invasive to existing plants. By removing trees, plant, insects, and animals from our yards, we create a sterile environment that does not support a diversity of living organisms. Even by mowing our lawns, we are endangering the environment as lawnmowers require fossil fuels to run, which pollute our air. “Man is everywhere a disturbing agent. Wherever he plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned into discords.” 
Small steps towards a greener American society may aid in improving the impression for the rest of the world on America. The fact that America is a nation of consumption and abuse of natural resources, creates the opportunity for the United States to set an example of how to act environmentally friendly. America is the land of opportunity, of change and it has harvested such great ideologies of what it is to dream, that it is in fact the perfect nation to harbor a land that is pure and eco friendly. Simple steps from everyone and a desire not for materials but rather freedom may forever change the impact America has on its own land.
The new American lawn can still meet the aesthetic need of the lawn while also improving shading. Shading your property is a great way to reduce your energy bills and to promote activity. Move away from an open vast green carpet towards one that is covered and full of vegetation and life. Reduce the use of chemicals and irrigated water while increasing biodiversity. We need to move away from the industrial lawn with our preconceived notions of the American lawn and move towards the new values of the freedom lawn. We need to challenge the idea of the typical American dream and make it into a dream that is your own!
____________________________________________ Bates, Catherine. “America the Beautiful.”  Bormann, F. H., Diana Balmori, and Gordon T. Geballe. Redesigning the American Lawn. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2001.  Joni Mitchell. Big Yellow Taxi. Rec. 1970. MP3. Warner Brothers, 1970.
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