by lana lynne on 4.18.11
The image of Malvina Reynold's colorful "little boxes" lined up, row after row, divided by some small acreage of grass, lends a nice visual to Sarah Goodyear's article on Grist, "The Lawn Goodbye," which tells the story of an Arizona man who painted his dead lawn green in order to comply with his neighborhood's aesthetic ordinances. The lawn is, one might argue, a ubiquitous marker of social status in U.S. suburbia, having its roots in the industrial revolution and then gaining popularity in the fin de siecle with the advent of lawn mowers and garden hoses.
The "painted lawn" of modern day is a fitting manifestation of our image-obsessed culture. And while it's easy to smirk at the irony of such (non)conformity, it's also sad; it would be just as easy for people to gussy up their yards with nature's own make-up. Commenting on the companies that have sprouted up to paint lawns to "keep your curb appeal," Goodyear rightly remarks, "The idea that painting lawns green is a growth industry -- an income source that might enable people to keep their own lawns painted green and the homeowners' association at bay -- says a lot about where we've come to as a country," and she goes on to relate it to the legend of Russia's Catherine the Great trek through the Crimea region, where along her path fake houses were built to hide the poverty.
One could argue that the real and painted lawns of today "hide" not just an economic (and aesthetic) poverty, but an impoverished and outdated perspective on our relationship to the space in which we live.
Take a listen to NPR's recent interview with Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, to hear about, among other things, Las Vegas's $40,000 incentive to turn grass lawns into zero-scapes.