John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
"Ugly" here means beautiful yards with well-watered plants.
Lush greenery, bursting flowers, and well-watered turf—in the topsy-turvy world of drought-struck California, this is what qualifies as an "ugly" lawn.
That's according to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, which is holding a contest to see who in the city has the "ugliest yard." Spokesman Guillermo Rodriguez explained to the San Francisco Examiner what might qualify for that ignoble distinction: "The ugliest yard really isn't one that is desolate and full of weeds and dirt. A yard that wastes a lot of water to maintain—that is ugly."
The city hopes this gimmick will push at least a few residents into switching to less water-intensive landscaping. It's awarding the grand-prize winner (as voted on by judges) a free lawn retrofit with drought-tolerant plants. The three runners-up get landscaping consultations and a mound of compost. And everybody who participates will be mailed a packet of native seeds—"enough to get their yard makeover started!," says the agency.
The budding competition has so far attracted just over a dozen entries. Judging from the photos people have submitted, not everybody gets that "ugly" means "green" here. These were the three most-voted-on lawns as of Wednesday evening:
"Corner lot has overgrown weed," writes the person who took this photo. "Gopher infestation; Dog pee and poop; Cracked and uneven concrete; Dead plants; Evidence of failed attempts to mulch and gravel (covered by weeds); Snails and bugs everywhere."
"It was supposed to be a lawn in a sea of paved front yards. But the drought had other ideas, as did the gophers."
"Cracked concrete, a mildewed shed with leaking roof and weeds feature prominently in this backyard with potential to be a lovely flower, fruit and vegetable garden!"