Lawn enforcement: How municipal policies and neighborhood norms influence homeowner residential landscape management

John M. Sisser, Kristen C Nelson, Kelli L. Larson, Laura A. Ogden, Colin Polsky, Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


As urban areas expand in population and geographic spread, residential landscapes become more pervasive, which is often associated with an increase in turfgrass that can contribute to changes in water use and nutrient flows. Management of these landscapes is influenced at multiple scales-municipal policies, individual homeowner decision-making, and neighborhood norms, and municipal policies. Most municipalities implement policies that encourage (i.e., weed and grass height ordinances) and restrict (i.e., irrigation ordinances) lawn management. But what is the relationship between yard ordinances, homeowner awareness of these ordinances, and neighborhood yard norms? We explored this question through homeowner interviews and a review of yard ordinances in 17 cities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area as well as interviews with code enforcement officers. We found most municipalities have lawn irrigation restrictions and weed or grass height ordinances, yet generally rely on complaints from neighbors to enforce these lawn management policies. This may be helpful when it comes to policies reinforcing agreed upon social norms-like grass height ordinances-but may be difficult with policies acting against the norm-like lawn irrigation restrictions. Additionally, homeowners in suburban areas posted high rates of awareness of local policies. Homeowner comments suggest social norms regarding lawn management are present across the urban gradient; weed-free and mowed lawns were most commonly identified. These findings have implications for policy development moving forward as cities face issues related to water scarcity or try to accommodate changing resident desires for natural landscaping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the MacroSystems Biology Program in the Emerging Frontiers Division of the Biological Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) under grants EF-1065548 , -1065737 , -1065740 , -1065741 , -1065772 , -1065785 , -1065831 , and -121238320 as well as the Research Experience for Undergraduates Supplement. The work arose from research funded by grants from the NSF LTER program for Baltimore ( DEB-0423476 ); Phoenix ( BCS-1026865 , DEB-0423704 , and DEB-9714833 ); Plum Island, Boston ( OCE-1058747 and 1238212 ); Cedar Creek, Minneapolis–St. Paul ( DEB-0620652 ); and Florida Coastal Everglades, Miami ( DBI-0620409 ). Scientists associated with these projects, Peter Groffman, J. Morgan Grove, Neil Bettez, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, James Heffernan, Sarah Hobbie, Jennifer Morse, Christopher Neill, Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne, Diane Pataki, and Meredith Steele, informed this study with research design and feedback. Kristen Nelson’s research lab scientists, Nicholas Martini, Amanda Meyer and Laura Dorle, assisted with data gathering and/or analysis, supported part by NIFA McIntire-Stennis 1000343 MIN-42-051.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Enforcement
  • Grass height
  • Homeowner awareness
  • Irrigation
  • Lawn ordinance
  • Norms


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