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In Deference to the American Lawn

Thu, 04/27/2023 - 10:09


Here on the South Fork, now is the time that the landscape-industrial complex is in full swing. You sense it everywhere, especially in the dawn-to-dusk chorus of leaf blowers and other gas-powered equipment as properties are primped and polished for the summer season to come. But even from the relative quiet of your own car, the onslaught cannot be missed amid the trucks and trailers of the landscaping companies parked smack in the middle of so many of the roadways.

This is against the law, but a total lack of police attention in East Hampton Town and Village has given their operators a sense of impunity. It should not be this way. Streets are for moving to and from destinations, not parking. And what does it say about law enforcement in East Hampton — that it serves businesses and not people?

The absence of policing has had only the effect of making the situation worse. Because the rules have not been enforced, small landscaper trucks have been gradually replaced by larger ones, many with bulky trailers. The effect is that these vehicles can no longer fit into the driveways of the properties they are servicing and are left in traffic. People on foot or riding bicycles must often move into oncoming traffic blindly, unable to see around the trucks’ bulk.

Unlike officially permitted roadwork or tree trimming, for which workers must direct traffic, these mowers and hedge clipping crews disappear from view the moment their trucks stop. The practice is an acknowledged hazard: New York traffic law prohibits leaving vehicles unattended in state rights of way; local laws allow temporary stops for loading and unloading only.

From time to time on a street like Dayton Lane in the village, trailers are detached and left unattended, blocking one side of the way, while the trucks that towed them are driven off to another job. Perhaps because of a deeply set sense of the sanctity of the American lawn, the landscapers often block roads with enough grass shoulder to pull off at least partway. From their perspective, it might make sense: Why risk damaging the strips of green that they are paid to maintain? Sure, yes, hell hath no fury like a lawn-lover whose grass has been defiled, but how that is everyone else’s problem escapes us.

Beyond the nuisance of blocked streets, there is an overarching issue of how we treat our planet. Highly tended lawns are water hogs and often require heavy use of chemicals to keep them uniform and green. These unnecessary toxic doses damage the insect and marine life our ecosystems depend upon. Suffolk County was recently revealed to have the highest lawn and landscape chemical use in the state. So not only are the trucks impacting quality of life and weakening our community’s deference to the rule of law, they are contributing to environmental degradation. They hasten the process by which we are exchanging a natural world for one under the control of humans, devoid of the essential biological complexity of life, in a sense, replacing meadows and forest with plastic simulations.


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