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The Fight for the Front Lawn

Greg Beato looks at self-expression via the front lawn. In places that lack homeowners associations, he suggests, individualized lawns have great potential to strengthen the surrounding community.
October 8, 2008, 12pm PDT | Judy Chang
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"In neighborhoods where architectural control committees enforce mailbox homogeneity, streetscapesessentially communicate one of two messages: The Smith family is either abiding by the community's covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or it isn't. In neighborhoods where giant cartoon cats hover over front lawns, a much wider range of discourse is possible. To exploit the possibilities, you can even hire an expert to temporarily turn your lawn into a "greeting yard" that celebrates a birthday, a newborn, an anniversary, an engagement, or some other event. All over America, lawn greetings entrepreneurs are ready to rent you a massive fiberglass stork or a few dozen bright yellow smiley faces to help you celebrate the most personal and important moments of your lives with that guy two houses down who you're pretty sure steals your Sunday newspaper on a semi-regular basis.

Just as greeting animations can turn MySpace strangers into real-life best friends, however, a lawn greeting can do the same in suburban neighborhoods. At a time when we're intimately acquainted with the lives of bloggers we've never met while knowing nothing about the people who live next door, an ostentatious display provides an obvious and convenient entry point. When people put up a lawn greeting, neighbors have a pretext to act neighborly. They bring presents, offer congratulations, and eventually have more to bond over than the fact that all their garbage cans exist in perfect aesthetic harmony with one another. The communities that allow displays of human expression to exist in the form of designer resin aliens and inflatable tiki totem poles may not be the best places to sell a house, but they aren't bad places to live."

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Published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 in Reason Online
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