It’s Time To Kill The Lawn

American lawns waste water, kill biodiversity, and generate huge amounts of pollution. It’s time to rewild them

Clive Thompson
8 min readSep 20


A lawn, shot from down low and straight across the top of the grass, with a house in the background
Photo by Petar Tonchev on Unsplash

I understand why Americans love their lawns.

They can be mesmerizingly pretty. When you behold a huge spread of lawn mowed into perfect cross-hatching — the sun casting microshadows that accentuate the checkerboard pattern — you are looking at a type of artwork: Nature transformed by pure geometry. It’s like contemplating the Platonic essence of green-ness.

Lawns can also be useful, utilitarian. Want to play a pickup game of football, or have a picnic? Go hit your lawn.

The act of caring for a lawn can also, like all gardening, be deeply fulfilling: Watching something you cultivate transform into a thick, lush creation.

There’s also a social element to lawns, particularly in suburbs. If you don’t tend your lawn, your neighbors may well begin to regard you as a slob. They’ll start complaining that you’re dragging down property values. Indeed, this is why many homeowners associations have requirements about how often you mow your lawn, and what state you keep it in.

A photo of a man mowing a lawn, shot from high in the air, showing the lawn as a massive green area with checkerboard cross-hatching, and the man small and in the lower-right-hand corner. The sun is shining from the east, out of frame, so the shadow of the man goes out to his left
Photo by Rémi Müller on Unsplash

The American love of a manicured lawn goes back quite far. It was inherited from Britain and Europe of the 16th to 18th centuries, when wealthy aristocrats got obsessed with taming nature. They loved to look out upon their massive, sprawling estates, where they’d taken acres of former forest — all twisting trees and vines and underbrush — then cut and sculpted it into walkways made of 90-degree angles and circles, with trees and flowers in neat rows, round fountains, and the grass trimmed into a glass-flat surface. All those Euclidean patches of grass were an almost metonymic expression of the Western mania for conquering the natural world — civilizing it, and extracting stuff to sell and use.

You can draw a lot of connections between that nature-taming impulse and the environmental muddle we’re in today, yes?

American lawns are themselves cause quite a lot of environmental problems. For…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.