Front Lawn: Community Builder or Barrier?

The other day I was reading something, somewhere about lawns.  Ha! Do you like where this is going? 🙂  Anyway, they mentioned that lawns, as much as we tend to them, aren’t very welcoming but instead are a barrier between us and our neighbors.  At first I completely disregarded this comment.  A barrier?!?  Come on!  Then after letting it sit for a while I started to think about it.  Hmm… Then I started making some observations and realized that I think they might be right.

As I’ve walked down the street and driven through neighborhoods I’ve been paying close attention to how people are using their lawns and what I found was that people don’t.  I’ve seen kids playing in them, whether it’s a game of catch or tag or simply sitting and chatting, but other than a select few, I rarely see adults in the lawn.  (Unless they’re mowing.)

I also started paying close attention to my own behavior and realized that I treat lawns like a glass wall.  If I’m walking down the block and see a neighbor out in their yard I’ll wave or say, “Hi”  but rarely will I walk across the lawn to talk to them.  I’ve found that I’ll even yell to them from the street (we don’t have public sidewalks in our neighborhood) before I’ll walk across their lawn.  And if I do think about walking over to them, before I step foot in the lawn I’ll search for a walkway, sidewalk or driveway to take instead.  And I’m not alone.  As I’ve been observing all of this, I realized that many other people are doing the same thing.  I’m lucky enough to live in a very friendly, close-knit neighborhood yet even in our neighborhood I’ve found almost all of the conversations on our block take place, not in our yards, but in the street.  And it’s not just in our neighborhood, I’ve seen it in other neighborhoods as well (except that in neighborhoods with public sidewalks the conversations take place on the sidewalk instead of the street).

Why do we do this?  Honestly I don’t know, but I don’t think these are conscious decisions. I do, however, think these are subconscious decisions.  For some reason lawns are not the welcoming green space we often refer to them as.  Instead, lawns have become almost untouchable, uninviting.

So that brings me to question why we have lawns.  I know I’ve told myself that its green space or play space or a space to relax, but what I’ve found is that I treat it more like a green moat, a space not to touch, not to cross, I look for a bridge to get me to the other side,  especially if the lawn is manicured.  Stepping on a manicured lawn is like walking on freshly vacuumed carpet, I don’t want to be the first to leave a foot print.

So what is it?  What is it about lawns that have become so untouchable?  And how to we change that?  Or should we change that?  Maybe untouchable is fine, but in this age of community building, untouchable lawns don’t seem to build much community, do they?  Some say fences in front yards build barriers, but I’m starting to wonder if it actually has the opposite effect.  Maybe fences are friendly because they have a gate, an opening, a place we know we can go and should go.  Plus, fences build curiosity, kind of like a secret garden: we can’t see it all, so our mind naturally wonders, “What’s on the other side?”  With wide open lawns, on the other hand, we could enter anywhere, but we don’t.  Instead we hesitate.  I find myself wondering whether I should walk on the lawn.  “Maybe there’s a preferred route?  Maybe the homeowner doesn’t want me on their lawn.”

Ever since I’ve had this “untouchable lawn revelation” if you will, I’ve started thinking about ways to make lawns more appealing and have come to this conclusion: maybe less lawn is more friendly.  Maybe, if there were perimeter gardens or flowerbeds or shrubs close to the street, with an inviting opening, a virtual gate, or even a structure, the lawn would be more welcoming and less threatening.  I also think if the lawn had a more defined purpose such as a pathway between flower beds or inside a “room” such as a perimeter of plantings under Adirondack chairs it would feel more like a rug or carpet in a room; something to come in, take your shoes off and get comfy on. Or maybe it’s a play area, an obvious play area with defined borders, maybe then it would be more welcoming.

So as my own space continues to evolve I’ll be thinking about the purpose of my lawn.  With each space I create I will ask, “How will it be used?”  Because if I can answer that question, if I can give my lawn a purpose, and design the space around it, I think I’ll be more likely to use my lawn myself and hopefully the glass wall will come down and others will want to use it too.


One Comment to “Front Lawn: Community Builder or Barrier?”

  1. They are green moats…and fences can be friendly…


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