The democratic symbolism of the lawn may be appealing, but it carries an absurd and, today, unsupportable environmental price tag. In our quest for the perfect lawn, we waste vast quantities of water and energy, human as well as petrochemical. (The total annual amount of time spent mowing lawns in America comes to 30 hours for every man, woman, and child.) Acre for acre, the American lawn receives four times as much chemical pesticide as any U.S. farmland…
But the deeper problem with the American lawn, and the reason I believe the White House lawn must go, is less chemical than metaphysical. The lawn is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with our relationship to the land. Lawns require pampering because we ask them to thrive where they do not belong.
Turfgrasses are not native to America, yet we have insisted on spreading them from the Chesapeake watershed to the deserts of California without the slightest regard for local geography. Imposed upon the land with the help of our technology, lawns encourage us in the dangerous belief that we can always bend nature to our will. They may bespeak democratic sentiments toward our neighbors, but with respect to nature the politics of lawns are totalitarian.
The New York Times, 1991