American dream, while staying green

Scene: saw grass blows in the wind, swamp water effortlessly and flawlessly reflects the sky and the occasional bubble at the surface indicates an alligator in the water’s depths. This is the scene we call our home.

Oh, wait. No it’s not. Fast-forward 100 years, past the draining of the Everglades, the construction of canals to redirect water flow and the development of a more expansive Miami-Dade County.

Shrubbery has since transformed into high rises, swampland into single-family homes and saw grass into your residential lawn.

Yes, your residential lawn. You know the one – the one that brings you stress trying to maintain it in Miami, the one that is actually invasive.

Somehow, our society places value on this 10-by-8 parcel of cut green, symbolic of the American “dream,” and, similarly, American consumption. It frames your driveway, where two oversized vehicles beg for a steady stream of imported gasoline.

You’re not to blame. There’s no reversing it. Our economy’s reliance on oil and gas and the related inefficient public transportation system dictate this aesthetic value.

But there’s a problem. Zoom into our university’s campus, where the manmade Lake Osceola sits at the center, bordered by, you guessed it, grass. This body of water, like most others in our beloved South Florida, is ultimately connected to Biscayne Bay by the maze of canals – can you say “Tragedy of the Commons?”

Keeping this lakeside green alive is no easy feat. Sitting on any set of gliders and gazing across the water, it’s not unusual to see a worker, either in a motorboat or on shore, spraying the grass with what appears to be fertilizer or herbicide.

Fertilizer, because it ends up in rainwater runoff, is one of the culprits behind oxygen depletion in our iconic lake. This is an outcome of the influx of nutrient levels brought on by the runoff, which causes the phytoplankton to overproduce.

The consequence? That rotten egg smell wafting into unhappy noses when the microorganisms die. The school has installed oxygen bubblers at each end of the lake in an attempt to counter this effect. This is not a preventative measure, as it should be.

Physical oceanography professor Donald Olson recommends putting in buffer areas where runoff is impounded and boarder plants are used to take up the nutrient load.

A preemptive solution is also possible, however. The school can also “lower use of fertilizers and dependence on newer formulations that retain nutrients in the lawn turf, instead of releasing them into runoff,” according to Olson.

Our lake deserves attention and care. Let’s not prescribe to American values about the residential lawn, but rather model our campus after an edited version of the scene we once called our home.

Allison Goodman is a junior majoring in ecosystem science and policy, and women’s and gender studies.

October 16, 2011


Allison Goodman

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