THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER, a modest proposal

There’s a big turf war going on in New York City: Natural versus Artificial. You can read all about it in the New York Times, but the short version is that playing fields made of genuine grass cannot be played upon constantly and that means there aren’t enough of them to go around. How much this is due to population pressures and how much to the fact that ‘“New Yorkers expect to play where they want, when they want,” ’ as the Parks and Recreation Commissioner put it, is not revealed in the story.

But the commissioner, Adrian Benepe, sees it as part of his mission to fight childhood obesity, and making sure children can run around as much as possible is a very good way to do it. That being the case, there is much to be said for the artificial stuff: you can put it on places like asphalt-covered lots where grass would never grow; it’s in place year round yet costs less to maintain. And as the commisioner did not say, you can install it without running afoul of the junk food lobby.

The natural camp argues that urban children need more contact with nature, not less. And they add that while playing is certainly healthy the artificial turf is not. It’s rife with personal and environmental hazards from excess heat absorption to carcinogenic chemicals.

The real deal. Those ragged pale tips, to my shame, reveal that our mower blade needs sharpening.

My sympathies lie – naturally – with the natural grass camp, but I wish this were not being cast as an either-or choice. The city has more empty asphalt than one might think, especially in the outer boroughs. So why can’t the places that can support grass be encouraged to do just that while places that can’t grow grass anyway are covered with the artificial turf ?

But lets not keep calling it “artificial turf” or even worse, just “turf,” as the article does repeatedly. And let’s stop dyeing it grass green as though it were some kind of equivalent. It isn’t. It’s Plastic Play Surface, and if a concerted effort were made to create some that was more benign, it would be a win-win for everyone. New York is not the only city that’s short of playing fields.

Why couldn’t the stuff be made from old soda bottles, say, and tinted against glare in a very pale blue, pink or yellow? It wouldn’t match grass as a natural air conditioner, but the lighter color would make fewer heat problems. And the fact that it was absolutely not green would be a reminder that it was, however useful, absolutely not grass.

( Please don’t remind me a pale rug would show the dirt. Maybe showing that dirt deposited on plastic cannot return to the earth would be a good idea.)

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