We're half way through the summer now, and I swear I can count on only one hand the number of times this season I've seen a neighbor enjoying their yard. The guy in back of us is building a chicken coop but that doesn't count -- I'm talking about someone throwing a barbecue, kids playing, or simply lounging. Sadly, it just doesn't seem to happen anymore and according to a Boston Globe article that was published a few weeks ago, my fear has been confirmed: the great American backyard is disappearing.
Indeed, a good friend of my mother that I've also become friends with was told by a real estate agent that even in our tony town where property is prized (and on the pricey side) that "no one cares about having a yard and the land anymore." In recent years it's become the norm for a developer to purchase and knock down a home that was built in the '50s or '60s, and replace it with a big, ugly, soulless McMansion that takes up way more floor space than the previous house. The less lawn to mow and maintain, the better.
Speaking of mowing, I almost never see anyone trimming their own lawn or doing gardening nowadays. They hire landscapers to do the dirty work -- leaving them with an immaculate yard that they never venture onto to enjoy (maybe they're also too afraid to walk barefoot on grass which has been dowsed with poison by TruGreen.)
For the baby boomers and people of my generation that grew up in the suburbs in the '70s and '80s, it was a different story. Backyards were a haven used for barbecues, parties, games (I still miss the badminton net my parents set up one summer), Nerf toys, Slip 'N Slide, you name it. When I was about five years old my father bought me a swing set from Sears (I remember him partially assembling it in the living room before moving it outdoors.) It was made of metal, so the slide would burn your legs in the summer unless you cooled it by running the hose over it first. The swings hung on chains that could easily pinch little fingers. It also had a monkey bar. All hazardous dangers by today's standards, but I loved that thing! I spent many hours playing on it by myself. And visiting friends' houses as a kid was a treat because it gave us a different landscape to explore. I remember sunning myself at a friend's house as a teen, sipping on lemonade while a radio we brought outside played Tears For Fears on the local pop station. And how many of us had an old man that mowed the lawn shirtless, and rewarded his efforts on a sweaty summer day with an ice cold beer?
So why are so few people taking advantage of their yards? Well, I certainly think technology has a lot to do with it. Kids would rather play inside with their mobile phones; it's sad that one of the only ways we can get some young people to go outside and move their bodies is because of a stupid mobile app called Pokemon Go. People would rather catch up on Facebook and check email -- something they can do outdoors with their mobile devices. The Globe article cited the fact that most households are comprised of couples where both people work full-time and just don't have the time to enjoy or maintain a yard, so the simplest solution is to build up their property so they no longer have to worry about it.
Here's what I'd like to propose to anyone who's lucky enough to have a yard: take at least an hour each weekend to enjoy it. Make yourself a glass of iced tea, bring a book outside, and inhale the warm summer air for 60 minutes. Spread a blanket on the grass and have a picnic, even if you're the only one attending. Buy some horseshoes, a croquet set, or another game that's meant to play outdoors (how about a ping pong table?) Throw a party or barbecue.
We can't make these warm summer days stick around forever, but we can least make a case for preserving lawn space -- before it's too late.