Rethinking the American front yard: a workshop

Photo of Levittown, with front yards
It is high time we rethought the front yard space

If you are interested in both the history and evolution of the American front yard and rethinking how we design and use this historically purely aesthetic space, please join us for an interactive and collaborative workshop on April 20 @ 1:00 p.m. at the machinaloci space in South Berkeley. Co-led by James Rojas of Place It!, Trena Noval and Ann Wettrich of Fieldworks Collaborative, and Carol Mancke of machinaloci.

To RSVP, click here.

New essays on parks

parks, greenspace, Los Angeles, Grand Park, City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts
Hot pink meets tawny gold in one of our favorite new parks, Grand Park, in Los Angeles

A new collection of essays on city parks has just come out featuring the likes of Candice Bergen writing about their favorite spaces and respites from modern urban life. It is entitled City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts. The ever-increasing attention on and interest in city parks no doubt corresponds to an increase in urbanization across the world. In America’s larger cities, a house with an ample yard, while once attainable and the norm to many, is increasingly becoming an unattainable luxury. Sidewalks, and city parks great and small are becoming the new front yard of the 21st century, in many ways out of necessity. For more information on the book, click here.

Sterile or weedy: the false dichotomy

Conventional American front yard of turf and a few shrubs

There is very much a history of formality when it comes to the American front yard. A swath of freshly mown lawn, plus a few evergreen shrubs hugging the house or building, still endures as the overarching landscape aesthetic of the age. However, with growing concerns over sustainability and natural resource conservation, there has naturally been an increasing number of people calling for a modification of this water- and fertilizer-intensive approach to the front-yard landscape. New books such as Lawn Wars, by Lois B. Robbins, and John Greenlee’s The American Meadow Garden, advocate for a wilder, less tamed approach to the front yard. And enter the front yard that has been converted to a prairie or meadow, or some variation thereof.

On the opposite end of the spectrum

The challenge of this endeavor is not pushing the formal aesthetic too far in the opposite direction to a weedy or scrubby aesthetic, which is so often what the front-yard conversions end up looking like. As a result, people equate less lawn with weedy, and the mass appeal of the endeavor has been intensely diminished. There are those who counter that wild is good, manicured bad, and that people need to simply accept that that will be the future state of affairs. It is as if we were given only two options: water-thirsty lawn and dull evergreen shrubs, or overgrown weedy hot-mess that is good for the environment, so therefore you should like it. We are thinking human beings, capable of solving multifaceted problems, and don’t buy into this artificially two-sided argument one bit. The enjoyment and challenge of the front-yard landscape is merging the formal and wild and coming up with an aesthetic that is a hybrid of what came before and what is to come. These hybrid landscapes can potentially have infinitely more mass appeal than the purely wild and weedy ones, and if the objective is to reduce water consumption and chemical fertilizers on a large scale, mass appeal should very much be the objective, not buying into a rarified aesthetic that is tough to swallow. After all, these are landscapes, spaces that are supposed to delight the eye and the senses, not be exercises in difficulty.