On May 7, 1947 real estate lawyer Abraham Levitt, along with his two sons William and Alfred, announced a plan to build a community of middle class homes on Long Island. Responding to a growing urgency in the US for family housing after World War II and the corresponding baby boom, the Levitts built nearly identical slab homes just as fast as they could. By 1951, they had produced more than 17,000 houses in Levittown and surrounding areas.
Each Levitt house came complete with a television, a well-manicured lawn, and plenty of rules to maintain the right sort of neighborhood vibe. People snapped up the houses as soon as they could be built. The project was so successful that in many ways it became a model for suburban housing developments all across the US.
And with them spread the idea of the Homeowners Association with all its various limitations on backyard chicken farms and exactly how long the stupid grass is allowed to be in order to maintain the look of turf lawn perfectionism. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you at this point, but man, I hate to mow.
We had a long, cold early spring here in the Midwestern US. If you know anyone from this corner of the world, I’m sure you heard about it. The weather was all anyone could talk about for a while. For weeks, I couldn’t go to the grocery store without a stranger stopping me to discuss the cold. I even blogged about how March was throwing a toddler-worthy tantrum.
I hate to be one of those people who is never happy, no matter what the weather does, but frankly now that our nice warm spring is finally here, with stunning blossoms, and the constant drone of suburban lawn care, I kind of wonder what we were all complaining about.
The Levitts certainly weren’t the first people to ever have grass lawns. Researchers point to the need for our ancestors on the savannah and later tucked inside medieval European castles to be able to see oncoming threats. Like lions. And invading armies. And door-to-door missionaries.
But for a long time, personal lawn space was a luxury unavailable to other than the wealthiest individuals, who could afford to hire an army of scythe-wielding caretakers, didn’t need to dedicate every available patch of land to growing food, and had time to play lawn darts.
But now we have lawn mowers, grocery stores with shelves full of Doritos, plenty of time for lawn darts, and persnickety homeowners associations that make those of us in suburbia promise not to hang our laundry out to dry in the sun, raise chickens in our back yards, or let our grass grow three feet high.
Most of the time, I don’t mind. Even though I’d like to know I have freedom to do so, I don’t really want to raise live chickens. And if I’m being perfectly honest, my husband does most of the mowing because for some reason he finds it kind of enjoyable. When he’s too busy or when this crazy beautiful weather we’re finally having leaves us with jungle grass every other day, I grumble and step up to keep the HOA off my back. These are tradeoffs I’m willing to make at this point in my life for good schools and quick access to city amenities.
Someday perhaps I’ll move further away from the city where I can dry my laundry on a clothesline in the sun and raise as many chickens as I want (still probably zero, but the freedom is the thing). Then I suppose I won’t have anything to complain about. Except for the tract-wielding missionaries that snuck up on me through the waving prairie grass. And of course the weather. I’ll always be able to complain about that.
12 thoughts on “Get Off My Lawn!”
Hated HOAs even though they served a purpose. We didn’t need anybody to tell us when to cut our grass or that one side of our fence was faded and needed to be repainted. It wasn’t our fault it faced the sun, and it worked perfectly. Our approved labrador retriever never left the yard.
We are moving into our dream home this month. Probably a little older than you, don’t have to worry about good schools anymore 🙂 Our baby is a senior in college. We are plopping down in the middle of a 32 acre mostly wooded lot down a 3/4 mile state maintained gravel road. Not too much traffic and the closest grocery store is between 10-15 minutes. It depends on whether you get trapped behind a tractor or not. Yes, they drive on the road too 🙂
That’s the dream! Congratulations! Fortunately our HOA hasn’t done anything too persnickety yet, but then I haven’t really pushed back, either. I wonder just what kind of action it would take to get an official reprimand.
Our weather certainly has been weird. This week is too much like July to suit me. I hate being hot and sweaty – it makes me cranky. By the time August rolls around I’m begging for the crisp beauty of fall. 🙂
I think I’d still rather be hot than cold, but maybe I just need to move to a dessert where the grass doesn’t grow so well. But I would miss the big deciduous trees. Nothing’s perfect I guess.
LOL!!! That Medieval lawn service… so funny. Remember chickens spread bird flu! 🙂 I’m at least glad spring looks like it’s there to stay!
Well, it’s here for now. This weekend looks like it wants to be 90 degrees so I’m not sure it’s sticking around for long. I hadn’t considered the bird flu issue. Maybe it’s okay not to have chickens.
I’d rather be cold than hot. I did greatly enjoy the 32 hours of spring we had, but this summer is about to do me in. Our apartment landscapers keep the grass very well tended but I don’t think we’re allowed to walk on it.
Why would you want to trample turf grass perfectionism? 😉
We live in a rural neighborhood without an HOA now, and as much as all the rules annoyed me when we did live in a neighborhood with one, I miss living somewhere where people were told they couldn’t let their front yards turn into scrap yards!
There are some definite advantages.
Great post, Sarah. Good connection between Levittown and its influence on suburban housing. 🙂