“Lawns are a soul-crushing timesuck and most of us would be better off without them.”
How’s that for a headline? This particular one and accompanying opinion piece appeared as a Washington Post Wonkblog this past Aug. 4.
OK, Mr. Christopher Ingraham, the Wonkblog’s author, tell us what you think—really think—about lawns?
What he really thinks is that given the 40 million acres devoted to lawns in the United States, a great majority of the time spent caring for them is time misspent. (In coming up with the lawn acreage number, he referenced a 2005 NASA estimate derived from satellite imaging.)
My immediate impulse on seeing the headline was to tear into this writer like a tiger leaping onto a grazing antelope. I am an editor with Turf magazine, after all, and I have been writing about lawns and their care for more than 30 years. But, as I read and reflected on the article I felt my blood pressure dropping. Apart from the headline (accomplishing what a headline is supposed to do—grab my attention) I found myself agreeing with some of Mr. Ingraham’s points
For example, he makes the point that some people actually enjoy the tasks associated with keeping their lawns nice. Judging by the number of people (neighbors included) I see whizzing around their properties with shiny, efficient riding mowers, I would say a lot of people enjoy working on their lawns. The blogger adds that “in some cases the time investment may be worthwhile–some families use their lawns all the time.” Yep, I can agree with that, too.
In terms of criticism, apart from the time devoted for maintaining them, the Wonkblogger cites the EPA’s estimate that lawns soak up 9 billion gallons of water a day. He has something there. Do we use too many resources–fuel, fertilizers, chemicals and potable water—in caring for our lawns? Unfortunately, too many of us do.
But, in the end, the “timesuck” blog is an opinion piece. It’s not meant to paint a complete or fair picture of the role of lawns in American society.
The blog doesn’t mention the economic value that nicely maintained lawns add to properties. It doesn’t hint at the good will and sense of civility lawns engender in our neighborhoods. But, the biggest omission in the piece is piece is its failure to mention the well-documented environmental plusses lawns contribute to our communities—capturing dust, their cooling effect, reducing runoff, etc.
The role of lawns in American landscapes and how they are cared for has been debated for decades. Lawns and their role in our society will almost certainly continue to be scrutinized well into the future. The discussion is welcome as I’m confident the benefits of having and maintaining lawns far outweigh the criticisms aimed at them.