Mr Garcetti, tear out this lawn

Posted on | October 29, 2011 | 10 Comments

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times ran an editorial calling for the end of the Occupy LA encampment around City Hall. Among the reasons given were, “They’re killing the lawn in one of downtown’s rare green spaces, which will have to be replaced at taxpayer expense, and they may be damaging City Hall’s majestic fig trees.”

As one of the paper’s garden writers, I beg to differ. Having been to Occupy LA on Thursday, I can see that the encampment is, indeed, acting as human sheet mulch, a powerful technique for removing lawn. Yet once it’s killed, why replace it? Killing the lawn in a water-strapped region is one of the most beneficial things that any citizen can do. The water utility run by the Council inside City Hall has been paying rebates for home owners to do just that for several years now. That Occupy LA is smothering lawn for them should be regarded as an opportunity. That City Hall Facilities has turned off the sprinklers to the lawn is a good thing; traditionally they have inundated the ground so deeply that mushrooms grew. Reportedly the reason for the waste wasn’t for public enjoyment of the lawn, but so homeless couldn’t lounge on it. 

As for the protestors hogging green space, there is a quarter of an acre of open lawn one block away by police headquarters.

As for the majestic figs suffering, the old trees will do just fine without irrigation for a couple of cool months in the fall. Moreover, using lawn sprinklers is not an ideal way to irrigate trees. Time for drip!  As a plus, curtailing the chronic overwatering of the trees will reduce fast growth, which will reduce maintenance costs. If the worry is about air to feeder roots, a simple request to camp organizers could probably elicit some action. But this is a temporary camp.

Ultimately, the camp will move. It will rain. There will be a raid. Something will happen. But in the meantime, the Los Angeles City Council should embrace this moment to replace the lawn with native gardens. The latter are more beautiful. They celebrate the fragrant and hardy plants that can survive here without daily watering. They require none of the expensive and polluting grooming required by lawn. This is the time for City Hall to reject a style of horticulture synonymous with environmental collapse and adapt a new, sustainable ethos. There are plenty of people camped down there without jobs who could not only use them but who, with a little imagination, could be mobilized to replant wet gardens into more sustainable ones. 

And so, consider this my addition to the Occupy LA Dream & Wishing Tree: May protestors camp long enough that they indeed snuff the lawn around the Los Angeles City Hall. Then, may the City Council not only thank them, but also seize the moment to remove what remains of the cynical green skirt around their high white tower.

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10 Responses to “Mr Garcetti, tear out this lawn”

  1. Drew Ready
    October 29th, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    Brilliant Emily, as always.

  2. Jessica Hall
    October 29th, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

    Yes!!!Bring it on!

  3. rhett beavers
    October 29th, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

    Amen, sister Emily – you are spot on… thanks for the reminder…

  4. Susan Keirn
    October 29th, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    Hopefully, every reader will forward this to their Councilperson. I will forward to Bill Rosendahl who is very supportive of the water conserving gardening that is featured in the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase each year.

    Well said,Emily.

  5. Melanie Winter
    October 29th, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

    Hear, hear.

  6. Candace Hyde-Wang
    October 30th, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    As anyone who has tried the alternatives knows, lawn has many virtues, not the least of which is offering a kind place to sit. Can you imagine Occupy occupying a woody native bush garden? No, they would have been destroyed immediately and the outcry would have been loud and long.

    Lawn offers public gathering space, and afterwards, when it is brown and dusty, a little water will spring it back to life.

  7. EmilyGreen
    October 30th, 2011 @ 11:20 am

    Hi Candace, thanks for the comment. Our native flora offers many types of plants and gathering was done among them long before the turf industry took over grounds maintenance. Good design could admit public gathering as it clearly does at our best native gardens. Meanwhile, the type of turf now employed has more negatives than positives, not least where water is concerned. The state of California is in a water crisis. We are literally driving its freshwater fish to extinction because of our water withdrawals. The Metropolitan Water District is suing to have endangered species act protections for Bay Delta salmon overturned. On other fronts, lawn grooming equipment accounts for a stunning amount of air and noise pollution. Sprinkler run-off pollutes the Pacific. This model is deadly and it should not surround our place of governance. There are better alternatives and we should be creative and resourceful enough, and optimistic enough about the future, to look for them now. Who among us wants to look at our young and say, “Honey, we destroyed the rivers and oceans because we wanted lawn where it was unfit to grow naturally?” I don’t.

  8. Matt Heberger
    October 31st, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    Great post, Emily. And to Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, same to you!

  9. Lex
    October 31st, 2011 @ 10:36 am

    Three Cheers! So glad you posted this!

    I groan every time I hear a city official lament the condition of the lawn b/c of the Occupy LAers.

    As anyone who spent time there during the Wisconsin solidarity rallies or other events knows, that law was very spotty to begin with and often had mud pits, so not as hospitable as some might think.

    I saw a landscape architect volunteer her/his services on one of the OLA blogs. I would also volunteer to do some labor in a refreshed, more climate-appropriate landscape when the time comes!

    In the meantime, let the camp continue!

  10. Charlie
    November 1st, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    yes, for those in LA who have lawns, please ask yourself if it is worth driving species to extinction, destroying the way of life of farmers, drying up rivers, and spending billions of taxpayer dollars are all worth having your little green spot.

    Granted, I’d like to see lawns removed from around corporate parks and businesses first (never used), then lawns removed or greatly decreased around suburban homes (rarely used)… I’d see the park lawn replaced with something else but the top priority seems to be the ‘useless’ lawns all over the city

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