Can we get more natural space on campus?

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I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but the giant brown splotch left on the CFA Lawn every year after Orientation makes me wonder how many students' tuition goes into destroying that grass every single year. But it also makes me wonder if Carnegie Mellon really cares about some of the more natural aspects of campus.

Sure, there are tons of shrubs and ornamental grasses scattered around campus and in front of some of the buildings, but why is there not more natural spaces? The only places that really come to mind are the garden outside of the Doherty basement, the Peace Garden between Hunt Library and Hall of the Arts, Numbers Garden, and to some extent, the area by the Fifth and Clyde Commons. There aren’t many other places around campus where you can sit and have more than a few shrubs and grasses be around you.

While we’re at it, why don’t we have more spaces that have Pittsburgh-specific vegetation? I know there are several areas around campus where there are Black-eyed Susans — which is a great start — but why aren't there more areas with plants like Butterfly Milkweed? For those that don’t know, Butterfly Milkweed is host to Monarch caterpillars. When in bloom, they feature small clusters of orange flowers, which attract many different species of butterflies. Butterfly Milkweed can grow in full sun or partial shade, and there are many places around campus that meet those conditions. As far as I know, the only place that has Milkweed around campus is by Fifth and Clyde, and every time I’ve stopped by recently, there are several Monarch caterpillars munching on the leaves.

Carnegie Mellon can also take some inspiration from our neighbor, Schenley Park. There are a plethora of wildflowers that bloom there that can also find a home on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. For instance, Virginia Bluebells would be a suitable option. I’ve spotted them many times in Schenley Park, and I think they would go nicely in some of the flowerbeds around campus. With how often I see the sprinklers out, I don’t think it should be too hard to keep them well-watered.

I also think it’s important to make sure Carnegie Mellon community members know about opportunities to engage with green spaces on and around campus. While some clubs go on walks in Schenley and Frick, I feel like as a community, we underutilize having Schenley Park right next to Carnegie Mellon. Another option is the Winthrop Community Garden. I visited it for the first time recently after hearing rumors about it for the past three years but not knowing where it was. It’s a great space and if you know how to get involved with it, please reach out and let me know! I don’t think many people know about it, and I know it’s not a Carnegie Mellon-managed space, but I think highlighting community efforts like the Community Garden are still just as important.

But overall, I think the thing that bothers me the most is how many blank grass spaces we have around campus that could be turned into plant beds. There’s more than a handful of areas that are well-mowed patches of grass that could be turned into more natural spaces. Growing up in a more rural area, I always wondered why people spent so much time mowing their large swatches of land, only to have to spend hours doing it again in a week or two.

I read an article a while ago called “The American Obsession with Lawns” in Scientific American by Krystal D’Copa (please give it a read!). It details the histories of lawns and how they’ve become a sign of socio-economic status. When I first heard that, I went, “Huh?” But when I thought about it, I went “that makes sense.”

Lawns require a lot of resources to maintain — particularly water. They need one to 1.5 inches of water a week, whether it be from rain or sprinklers. In places like California that are constantly being stricken by drought, why do people need lawns? They’re taking up resources that don't really exist. (There is a bill in California to permanently ban “ornamental turf” at governmental, corporate, or industrial properties. This comes after a three-year ban that is set to expire next June.)

While Pittsburgh may not be as drought-stricken as other places in the United States, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be preparing for the possibility — we should be setting an example. I’m not saying that Carnegie Mellon should get rid of all lawns like The Cut or The Mall, but they should consider converting some of the lesser used lawns (like some areas outside dorms like Morewood or Fifth Neville) into more natural spaces.