How did the turfgrass lawn become a staple in the American suburban aesthetic? And why are they still so popular, when we know now that they’re largely ecological dead zones that do little to support urban and suburban ecosystems?
Rethink Your Lawn!
The following posts document my interdisciplinary research and creative practice related to American lawns and landscaping, using the intersecting lenses of applied anthropology and art.
View the project overview here and the entire project here. Project goal: to brighten downtown with regionally specific art, to invite Dayton residents to explore the overlooked historical context of the American lawn, and to empower Dayton citizens to make ecologically informed decisions about their outdoor space. This project represents a synthesis of applied anthropology …
It’s one thing to present a bunch of information on public display, but it’s another thing to get people to care about it. Readings this week promote the museum exhibit as an opportunity for visitors to experience learning as transformative to both their understanding of the world and their own self-perception. In order to tap into this, it’s important to meet potential visitors where they are and highlight how new information applies to their everyday life.
Readings this week present a challenge to the eco-friendly lawn paradigm. Are xeriscaped lawns doomed to reproduce the performances of inequality of the turf lawn, or are there ways to include considerations of social justice in the conversation? Here we explore the ways that the lawn can become a space of inclusion… or greater separation.
This set of surveys frames the ways that humans’ interpretations of their yards are overwhelmingly anthropocentric, focusing on questions of fitting in with the rest of the neighborhood, negotiating the yard as a public space, and seeing the yard in terms of human action rather than natural ecological cycles. Some people may be motivated by the needs of the ecosystem, but every human is motivated by what others think of them.
Though concrete geese and flashy holiday decorations may sometimes seem kitschy or silly, they may serve a deeper purpose. A closer look at someone’s choices of folk art often reveals not just a fondness for a particular aesthetic, but a desire to express their personality, open lines of communication, and build a sense of place and community in their neighborhood.
Since World War 2, the American relationship with the lawn has been characterized by an antagonistic, almost militaristic aggression against the natural suburban environments that were never adapted to host a monocultural turf lawn. But some researchers like William E. Doolittle seem to think that an affinity for plants is hardwired into our brains. Maybe there’s room for renegotiating the national narrative between Us and Lawn.
The methodology of art and design anthropology is variable and necessarily flexible, as initial project plans run into real-world limitations during implementation. Creative solutions to unforeseen problems may require shifts in emphasis or reimagining the project parameters in light of available resources. A growing number of anthropologists are applying their human-oriented critical thinking and observational skills to facilitate the iterative process of design. Some see a possible role of anthropology as not just observing existing culture, but helping to define it, and anthropologists should be especially conscious of their influences and bias in these cases.
Urban and suburban landscapes are decided by two general categories of stakeholders: top-down governmental policy-makers and individual homeowners and residents. These two categories are influenced by different factors; while public parks are likely more rigid in their adherence to a certain homogenous aesthetic, individual landscaping decisions are highly variable and dependent on the socioeconomic, cultural, and emotional variability of the residents. The emotional relationships that people have with their lawns also varies, with some people happily pursuing eco-friendly gardens, some maintaining monoculture lawns, and some stuck between the two without the resources to manage their yard the way they want to. Could the expertise of experienced lawn maintainers and gardeners somehow be leveraged to help those struggling to make a successful connection with their outdoor space?