Sunday, June 26, 2016


Neighbor's lawn
Hallie & Nick's lawn
Daughter Hallie wrote: “Our grass has some brown spots--it gets to where it's not worth trying to keep up with watering. [The neighbors] didn't even try. We're almost the only people whose grass is mostly green.” I had to chuckle to myself since she was saying the grass is greener in her yard than the other fellow’s.

Hallie and Nick are remodeling an old Tudor, built in 1929, in a traditional Seattle neighborhood. That set me to thinking about my growing up years in small town America. Our neighborhood was also established in the 1910s and ‘20s when residential areas were designed with a grassy parking strip between street and sidewalk. I guess that was the vision for the ideal community in those days. The parking strip technically belonged to the city, but it was the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain it.

Family home, 1959 -- note brown spots in parking
Back in the day, having a lovely, lush green lawn was the homeowner’s goal. I would go so far as to say that keeping one’s lawn green was a responsibility of home ownership. We wondered about people who let their lawns turn brown in summer. That said, I do remember Mother explaining that we didn’t own the parking strip but had to water it anyway, and it took a lot of water to keep it green.

Especially in the day when most people didn't have sprinkler systems, brown spots were bound to develop in the yard. No matter the type of sprinkler you used, it would miss certain spots -- undetected at first -- which would then turn brown. As a girl, I was assigned to take a hose and water the brown spots, so I know from experience that it took a lot of water to turn a brown spot green. In fact, even as a child, I wasn't sure it was worth my time and effort -- or the water. But – we lived on a river and thought water was plentiful. Of course, we paid the city for the water, but again, we accepted that obligation.

When Mike and I married (1975), we also lived in a well-established old neighborhood with lawns, sidewalks, and parking strips, but attitudes were changing. The world was learning about water as a precious resource. Cities were charging more for it, rationing it, and begging us to conserve it. Some homeowners began to complain -- even rebel -- about watering the parking strip they didn’t really own.

A neighbor two doors up the street demanded that the city pay for the water to maintain their parking strip – or else. Of course, the city said no, and didn't care about the "or else," so our neighbor ripped out the grass, filled the strip with gravel, and built two raised bed planters out of railroad ties in the space. Their comment was that it took too much water to keep the strip green. (Hmmm. How much did it cost to build the planters, plant with annuals, maintain, etc.?)

I myself thought the planters were an eyesore, but our elderly next-door neighbor's comment caught my attention. “I don’t like it,” she said of the planters. “I like to look down the street and see the continuous green of the parking strip.” Her point was that the planters interrupted the consistent flow that drew the eye, a bit of the vintage design for life right before our eyes. Well, that was the old community plan, the old vision – beautiful but already past its time. 

Mike & Kathy's drought-tolerant landscape
Today we build neighborhoods without parking strips and often without sidewalks. And some conservationists encourage opting for landscapes that take less water than grass. KW


Chris said...

Fortunately I've never lived with the parking strip--or even sidewalks. No sidewalks in the section of town where Mom and Dad built our house, sidewalk across the street in Lewiston, no sidewalks in Clarkston, no sidewalks in our first house here, and of course we're now "in the county", so none. I used to like the look of the parking strips, but nowadays, they are rarely taken care of so they generally look awful. Many in town here are paving over. Hallie's looks wonderful!

Kathy said...

Yes, sidewalks and parking strips are the old community model. It seems to me a sidewalk provides safety for pedestrians, but apparently that's no longer a concern. Not enough of us walk.