Creative Land Use

creative-land-useWhen many people think about improving their homes, they think about improving the building itself, and maybe making the lawn look a little greener. However, there are many different ways that the space around your home can be used that are environmentally friendly and unique. This can mean anything from de-paving to planting vegetation that actually reduces your home’s heating and cooling energy needs. Regardless of the specific vision you have for your land, there are many more sustainable options than a traditional lawn or paved area.

What’s Wrong with Grass

Before we talk about what creative things you can do with your land, it’s important to explain why you should do anything to begin with. In the case of lots that are almost completely paved over, it’s pretty straight-forward. Concrete and asphalt cause storm-water management problems, contribute to the urban heat-island effect, take up space that could be used for better things, and they don’t really look that good either. When it comes to lawns, there is generally a lot more resistance to the idea of replacing them. Yes they’re green, and yes they can look nice, but at what cost? The EPA has a list on their website of problems associated with lawns that includes:

  • Gasoline-powered landscape equipment (mowers, trimmers, blowers, chainsaws) account for over 5% of our urban air pollution.
  • Residential application of pesticides is typically at a rate 20 times that of farmers per acre; it has in many unintended results.
  • Yard wastes (mostly grass clippings) comprise 20% of municipal solid waste collected and most still ends up in landfills.
  • A lawn has less than 10% of the water absorption capacity of a natural woodland – a reason for suburban flooding.

So, what are your options? If your land is paved, the first step to a more sustainable yard is to de-pave it. What this entails is basically tearing up the pavement and replacing it with something that is better for the environment. The Philadelphia Department of Water even has a page on their website dedicated to de-paving. If you have a traditional lawn, have already de-paved, or are deciding what to do with the land around your home, you have a lot more choices. If you want to keep it simple, you might want to just plant something that doesn’t require much maintenance. This could be many different things like sedum or clover, but the important thing to keep in mind is why you’re replacing your lawn. If you’re just replacing your grass with some other sort of low vegetation, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t require a lot of mowing or fertilization.

Not for the Faint of Heart

If you’re more ambitious, there many more things you can do with your yard. Perhaps the two best choices from a sustainability perspective are a food-producing garden and landscaping to reduce your home’s energy use. An urban garden that produces food will not be able to feed you year-round by any means, but any food that you can produce at home is food that you don’t have to buy at the store and that means preserving natural areas from clearing for agricultural uses. If you don’t have a green thumb, there are also different combinations of plants that you can plant in a way that actually improves the efficiency of you home in summer and winter.
Obviously, giving your yard a sustainability makeover isn’t exactly easy, and each of the ideas discussed on this page are much more complicated than just planting some seeds or breaking up some asphalt. Below is a list of resources that deal with the different ways you can use your land more sustainably.
EPA Guide to Beneficial Landscaping:

Depave Your Yard | Philadelphia Water Department:

Landscape for Life (information of sustainable landscaping):

Behind the Walls
Innovation Center
One Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142