Regularly managed lawns are emblematic features of urban green spaces. They provide utility and aesthetic values, but often exhibit low species-richness and high management costs. Management interventions that convert such lawns into meadows could help mitigate the loss of a) native species and endangered semi-natural habitats from urban areas and b) the contacts between urban residents and biodiversity. However, socially sustainable planning and design, and hence long-term success of such interventions, needs to be based on an understanding of the values (utility, aesthetics or biodiversity) urban residents place on different types of lawns.
We surveyed the values European urban residents’ link with lawns of different management types, how these values relate to ways of lawn use and how values and uses are linked with the acceptance of meadow-like lawns. Organized by a consortium of 22 researchers across Europe, the study is based on more than 1700 face-to-face interviews from 19 cities. The lawn-attributed values were extracted by classifying open-ended questions on lawn preference according to existing value typologies. The variation in the value data was condensed to major gradients and clusters of variation with principal component analysis (PCA) and weighted pair-group method with averaging (WPGMA). These were related to personal and city-specific attributes with generalized linear mixed models (GLMM).
According to the first results, the majority of variation in the values associated with short cut vs. meadow-like lawns reflect divisions of preferences to wildness, beauty, and evidence of care and cleanliness. Urban residents value low-growing lawns either due to their recreation utility or due to perceived cleanliness and care. Tall-growing lawns, in turn, are valued through their beauty and wildness. Valuation of wildness and naturalness in lawns in general is a strong and significant predictor for residents’ positivity towards increasing the area of meadow-like lawns in cities. Value conflicts arise both within value categories (e.g. opposite views on beauty) and between value categories (e.g. preference for football vs. tall grass meadow).
The diversity of values attributed to lawns highlights that a diverse set of management regimes is an alternative for the current monopoly of short cut lawns. The results imply that introducing biodiversity conservation into urban green space management on a large scale has wide public support. However, evidence of care and cleanliness are required to satisfy the need for order, and lawns reserved for utility functions to satisfy the need for recreation. Participatory planning with urban stakeholders on lawn location and design would ensure that the conservation potential as well as recreational and aesthetic utilities of lawns are taken into account in urban green space planning.