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The importance of Urban Wilds (even if it’s our front lawn).

A while back I wrote on the importance of creating more maintained meadows in our urban parks (see here). At the same time that many of our parks continue to appear as if they are more “golf course” in nature, rather than urban wilds (much the way Olmsted originally envisioned them), we should also pay attention to our residential and commercial neighborhoods, to see how private and public green spaces are treated.

I am happy to say, that in my neighborhood, west of Elmwood Avenue, I have been seeing significant changes over the last 18 years. When I first moved onto my street, every lawn was over-mowed and there were very few “naturally” growing landscapes to be seen in any direction. These days, more and more homeowners are re-thinking their front lawns, and are opting to convert them into lower maintenance, more natural and sustainable growing areas. On certain blocks of Ashland Avenue and on Bryant Street, taking a walk is infinitely more interesting and beautiful merely due to the green surroundings that are encountered.


Every time a traditional lawn is dug up and green thumb is allowed to do his or her thing, a number of side benefits are realized. First off, water runoff is not as great. Also the need for continual lawn maintenance is alleviated. How many times do you walk past a lawn where little signs are posted to keep dogs away due to chemical treatment? Do you really want that in your neighborhood? Continual mowing of lawns, when nothing else is allowed to grow, means that there is no habitat for wildlife – bees, birds, butterflies, etc. Allowing for nature to thrive in an urban neighborhood not only looks beautiful, it’s important for the environment (especially indigenous plants). Not to mention water conservation (something that is not an issue in Buffalo, although it should be).


I was recently reminded of how important a healthy green neighborhood really is when I read about “Other Order”, which is an audio project that revolves around the sounds of Urban Wilds (see here). It’s basically a variation of a Sound Garden, where an audio headset allows listeners to hear places rather than simply seeing them. Often times when humans interact with nature (walking or jogging in public parks), they do so while listening to music (thus canceling out the sounds of the immediate environment). Even simply thinking about one’s own life can drown out the sounds of our natural surroundings, not to mention myriad manmade sounds that prevent us from hearing the calls of the wild.

Recently a UB professor (Teri Rueb – Department of Media Study) teamed up with a senior research scientist (Peter Del Tredici – teaches botany at Harvard Graduate School of Design) to create a virtual listening lab where visits to natural sites bring about auditory experiences that allow visitors to interact with natural environments in a completely unique way.

“My hope is that visitors will be able to view these landscapes that may initially look unkempt, shaggy and even in moments appear a little derelict and recognize that these places have a beauty of their own because they have been allowed to evolve according to their own spontaneous processes,” said Rueb.

Listeners of these fantastic audio experiences are treated with sound bites that are triggered via a phone’s GPS coordinates. Not all of the sounds are natural, as the clips tell the entire tale of the surroundings. This inspirational exercise goes well beyond the realm of maintained meadows, to show just how important undisturbed settings actually are. The problem is, that living an urban existence usually doesn’t allow for natural interactions such as this, unless you take a trip to Times Beach or Tifft Nature Preserves.

I’m not saying that we should let all of our lawns run rampant with nature’s plan… that would never be allowed to happen anyways. But there is a balance that would suit our neighborhoods nicely. For far too long we were told (probably by the lawn mower and pesticide industries) to keep our lawns dutifully trimmed and unnaturally green. Thankfully a number of urban homeowners have opted to take a completely different route when it comes to tending their front yards. I love living in a neighborhood that has evolved into a place that is much more a reflection of nature than the boundless manicured lawns that once ruled the streets.


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • sbrof

    First and most importantly would be to keep hold of the few places that are existing, functional wild places in the city. Like the railroad corridors or edges of the Buffalo River. City Hall needs to understand that they they provide value to residents and the environment more than the taxable value of the land. They improve the quality of life for many communities around the city without any investment or maintenance at all.

  • MarkPitman

    It’s truly amazing how far we’ve come as a community (and how far we have yet to go):

  • Garden Walk Buffalo says, “You’re welcome.”

  • SaveUsFrom

    Im all for a natural front lawn, mine has been like this for years and i don’t own a lawn mower (no need to).  However the lead image is a perfect example of what should NOT be.  The hedges are so big, they take over a portion of the public sidewalk.  The plantings between sidewalk and street (on public space btw) do not allow passengers to enter/exit cars very easily.  Looks to be the series of homes on Ashland near Bryant that have natural front lawns.  Those homeowners need to tame their planting and allow people to traverse that area unencumbered.  No big deal you say? Tell it to the parent pushing a stroller, or the physicaly challenged.  Walk down that section of Ashland at night and be sure not to get mugged or worse.  No one will see you because the wild front lawn is so overgrown.  Bottom line, there is a correct way of doing this and then there is the Ashland Ave way.  Creating a beautiful, low maintenance, natural front lawn is great.  Creating a dark, hazardous and down right scary area out of a public sidewalk, sucks.  Tame that stuff.

  • greenca

    Not only can passengers enter/exit cars easily, it also creates a dangerous situation trying to back out of a driveway when you have no idea if there are any cars/cyclist/walkers coming your way.  A front garden (which I’m all for) should not be over three feet high between the sidewalk and the street.  You need to keep those sightlines open.

  • foreverbflo

    wonder if most readers and citizens actually know how and why we are obsessed with “front lawns” ? It is an interesting and very sensible story. 
    “City Hall…” Their view has been for a while that these types of places and properties attract rats and are a maintenance nightmare. Unfortunately, city hall has no one qualified to understand and promote the ecological and environmental attributes of such “landscapes” in Buffalo and WNY. They nee to bring in someone well versed in the benefits – and WHY/HOW – of this type of natural approach. Change the culture of thought and you change the process.

  • OldFirstWard

    Too bad the sewer cover is right in the middle of the walkway to the front porch in the second photo.  The odor must be unbearable at times.
    Actually the front lawn is American home landscape vernacular.  I happen to like front lawns along with landscaped gardens and plantings.  It is good to have a mix of both in the proper context.  There is no better lawn than a healthy, thick, green and weed free landscape.

  • Arthur Park

    MarkPitman Unfortunately Buffalo’s mayor and others see such places as shovel ready sights. The latest recently occurred at McCarthy Park where the only wild area that even had deer in it was deemed as industrial and not parkland. It was bulldozed for new apartment buildings and parking lots. Most of the land is in the Transit zoning district.