keep off grass? why?

I went for a walk during lunch the other day and came across this sign. Actually, there were a bunch of them scattered throughout the grounds at a sprawling office complex near where I work. Since I walk through this development often I’ve noticed these signs more than once. This particular lawn is not new nor did it have those little warning signs announcing the recently applied presence of some pesticide. No, these signs were simply telling people this lawn is not for you. But, why? Who decides? I wonder if the people working in the development had a say? Imagine, for a moment, if the sign read Please enjoy this lawn! or maybe Rest here a moment. How would people respond to that? Would they even notice?

There is a growing body of research that suggest that city residents benefit from proximity to nature. Natural environments improve overall wellbeing and promote positive mental health. Now, I know a manicured lawn as representative of nature is a stretch but humor me for a moment. Many city dwellers, particularly Americans in our automobile-centric urban environments, have few opportunities to experience nature on a daily basis. Much of our daily life looks a lot like this…

parking lot

Not this…

urban tree with footbridge

or this…

urban path

or even this…

urban creek

Your blood pressure probably dropped just looking at the last three photos. And that’s it exactly – for many, urban life is already stressful enough. Angry, little prohibitions like keep off grass just make our built environment that much more inhospitable. This is probably why folks with some means and opportunity (count me among them) seek out places like the valley shown in the photo below on weekends. Maybe it is a need to achieve some sense of balance. A way to escape. But what if you don’t have the means? Or the opportunity?

mountain valley house

Cities are ultimately about people. Urban residents shouldn’t need to escape on weekends just to feel whole. It’s well past time cities started putting human needs first. On a daily basis when doing so would really make a difference. We need people-centric cities.

Maybe we can start by letting folks on the grass.

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