Tag Archives: urban planning

Modern lawn care: a lot of hot air

One of the things I strongly believe in is the need for manual labor, especially during these highly industrialized times. I believe such work yields better results and it keeps us grounded, in touch with the earth from which we ultimately draw our living. I dislike the “modern” methods of lawn care, where one uses hedge trimmers and leaf blowers to do a job which can be done much more adequately by simpler, manual tools such as a broom and a pair of hedge scissors.

Don’t mistake me for a luddite. I use lawnmowers when they’re justified, like when a lawn requires it, because of its size, or because it can’t be cut by a push-mower or a scythe. The scythe in particular is a great way to cut grass, and it’s also a great workout for one’s back and abdomen. It’s been around for millennia. It’s only been replaced by machinery during the last couple of centuries.

If you live in the suburbs, then this next picture should be familiar to you.

That, of course, would be landscaping day, or if you happen to live within a larger community that has a lot of lawns, this would be part of landscaping week, which would happen every month, or worse, during frequent rainfall, every couple of weeks. Every day of that period, the maddening roar of the leaf blowers would be heard all over the compound, gnawing away at your brain, making it impossible to take a nice afternoon nap, or to concentrate on a project.

I find it so inefficient to blow leaves around all day, for hours on end, when a pair of men with a couple of good brooms and some rakes would make short work of those leaves, with no noise at all, no pollution from two-cycle engines, and much less dust. I’ve often seen landscaping teams use tractors to mow little patches of grass where a push mower would have done just fine, or use hedge trimmers to walk for entire yards and trim little weeds here and there, when a man could have simply pulled them up by the roots.

I associated this sort of inefficiency, expense of petrol, noise and air pollution with the US, because so much gets wasted there these days, by people who feel entitled to everything the country has to offer, even though they offer little to nothing in return. So I was surprised to find the same waste had arrived in Romania, where my wife and I currently reside.

Here people still use scythes to cut the grass in the countryside. It’s a wonder to behold a good scythe-handler. A single man can make short work of an entire hillside in an afternoon. And it’s even more beautiful to hear the noise a sharpened scythe makes as it cuts through long grass: a metallic whoosh, coupled with a slight singing of the blade at the apex of its swing. Every other noise of nature is perfectly audible: the birds, the bees, the distant bleating of sheep, the breeze blowing through the grass and the edge of a forest nearby… It’s wonderful!

And yet, the noxious use of leaf blowers and hedge trimmers has found its way into Romanian cities, probably brought here through the export of popular American culture. Here, too, we can see workers parading through our street and through the city center with leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, making a huge noise of it all, for days on end. It’s such a pathetic (and polluting) spectacle. The noise is unbearable. Here we have tall brick buildings, built by the Saxons. These cities seem made for echoes. The wall of noise obliterates everything around. It bounces off the walls and can be heard hundreds of yards or kilometers away. It’s such a waste.

It was but a few short years ago that the city would hire scythe-men to come and cut the grass. In a few short hours, with a few swoops of the scythe, they’d be done, and someone would come after them to gather up the cut grass. It was peaceful and quiet. Now, we’re polluted with noise, and the blasted filthy smoke from the blowers and trimmers.

The sad part is that here, the public lawns found on streets and in city parks are not of the scale found in the States. They’re small. And Eastern European grass is soft. If one must use more modern machinery, they could easily switch to push mowers and be done in the same amount of time, without all the ridiculous noise and smoke.

New town center, Baia Mare, Romania

We began our recent trip through Bucovina in the city of Baia Mare, the capital of the province of Maramures in Romania. A few interesting tidbits about the city:

  • It has a Mediterranean-like climate, which means it can support chestnut trees — a rarity given that it’s located in the northern part of Romania, which in itself is quite a ways north from the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Population is about 150,000 people
  • The region is rich in gold and silver
  • It was one of the few known shtetls in Romania, along with Radauti and Gura Humorului. (Shtetls are, or rather were, pre-WWII, small towns with large Jewish populations from Central and Eastern Europe.)
  • The new town center was built in the 70s and 80s and features modern architecture

We visited the very same new town center. The architecture is certainly modern, but is unfortunately not maintained. Almost all of the buildings show cracks, some of the exteriors have begun to peel off, some windows are broken, there’s graffiti on most of them, and all are covered in a nice, thick layer of muck. I guess some of that can’t be helped after 40 years, but still, some efforts ought to be put forth by the city to maintain the architecture, right?

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The image of the church above is a fairly good representation of the state of downtown Baia Mare and of Romanian cities in general. At first sight, it looks nice, but as you get closer, you begin to see glaring problems such as the state of the sidewalk (potholes among a mixture of pavement, mud, asphalt and stones), poor landscaping, poorly maintained buildings, etc. If you were to look closer, you’d see problems with the building as well. To some extent, this can be blamed on the past Communist regime, where the emphasis was placed on quantity, not quality. The construction issues have only become evident in recent years, as layers have started to come off apartment buildings and public buildings alike, peeling like onion skins, revealing the crumbling masonry work beneath.

This next photograph shows the building defects a little better.

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The buildings look much nicer from nice from afar, don’t they?

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I took most of the photos from a park in the new town center, as you can see for yourself if you look at the surroundings. All in all, in terms of planning, it’s good. The idea of a central park in a new downtown, and the allowance for plentiful vegetation among apartments and shops and hotels is great. But a great idea must also be executed in appropriate fashion in order for it to be fully appreciated. In this new town center, like in most town centers built during Communist times, proper execution just isn’t there.

Look, don’t think I’m bashing Baia Mare. It’s a wonderful city, and there are many cities in worse shape in Romania. All I’m saying is things could be a lot better than they are. The predecessors could have done a better job building the city, and their successors could be doing a better job maintaining and beautifying it.

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