University of Maine - School of Law
82 George Washington Law Review 394 (2014)
Recognizing their role in sustainability efforts, many local governments are enacting climate change plans, mandatory green building ordinances, and sustainable procurement policies. But thus far, local governments have largely ignored one of the most pervasive threats to sustainability — lawns. This Article examines the trend toward sustainability mandates by considering the implications of a ban on lawns, the single largest irrigated crop in the United States.
Green yards are deeply seated in the American ethos of the sanctity of the single-family home. However, this psychological attachment to lawns results in significant environmental harms: conventional turfgrass is a non-native monocrop that contributes to a loss of biodiversity and typically requires vast amounts of water, pesticides, and gas-powered mowing.
In this Article, I consider municipal authority to ban or substantially limit pre-existing lawns and mandate their replacement with native plantings or productive fruit- or vegetable-bearing plants. Although this proposal would no doubt prove politically contentious, local governments — especially those in drought-prone areas — might be forced to consider such a mandate in the future. Furthering this practical reality, I address the legitimate zoning, police power, and nuisance rationales for the passage of lawn bans, as well as the likely challenges they would face. I also consider more nuanced regulatory approaches that a municipality could use to limit lawns and their attendant environmental harms, including norm change, market-based mechanisms such as progressive block pricing for water, and incentivizing the removal of lawns.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 62
Keywords: lawns, land use, sustainable development, food, police powers, local government
JEL Classification: I12, I18, K11, K32, L66, N50, O13, O18, P32, Q1, Q18, Q15, R14, R52
Date posted: June 16, 2013 ; Last revised: May 9, 2014