I had just spent an hour sweeping our front porch, staircase and the sidewalk in front of our house. While I was sweeping I looked up to see the thick film of dirt covering the front of the house that I had spent months painting on scaffolding. Then I looked down the block and noticed a member of Los Angeles’ legion of mow and blow crews kicking up a huge cloud of dust. In an angry moment I later regretted, I glared at him and pointed at my broom. He smiled in return.
Why are leaf blowers bad? The reasons are almost too numerous to mention. Journalist Emily Green points out that during a drought,
It’s more important than ever to stop this practice and that leaves be left piled near trees, grass left where it falls after mowing and that leaf blowers not leave the truck. Any foliage that spills into streets should be raked. Leaf blowers in drought send dry earth airborne to lethal effects for asthma sufferers, particularly children and infants.
Los Angeles banned gas powered leaf blowers in 1998. The ban has never been enforced. Artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres captured, perfectly, the racial and class tension surrounding the ban in a series of customized power tools, including the tricked out leaf blower above. It’s hard to address the problems with leaf blowers without also getting into the thorny politics surrounding race, class and immigration.
Leaf blowers exist in a symbiotic relationship with “low maintenance” landscapes which consist of a lawn and brutally pruned hedges. These water hungry landscapes provide neither food, beauty or habitat. (They are also not enjoyed by people: half of the suburban participants in a UCLA study of home life in SoCal never went into their backyard. Another 25 percent went outside for a few minutes a week.) Yet this style of landscape is our dominant style of landscape because the homeowner doesn’t need to think about it, and the maintenance crews can move through the space with their machinery quickly. Volume allows these business to charge little for their services, which makes their services affordable to most homeowners, which encourages homeowners to keep their landscapes in a form easily serviced. In other words, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. And it’s a cycle we can’t afford anymore, for so many reasons. And for me, our reliance on leaf blowers is emblematic of all these problems.
I struggle with how to tackle the leaf blower problem. In a perfect world, the mow and blow crews would get horticultural education that they could then use to charge a living wage to maintain ecologically beneficial landscapes. Homeowners who couldn’t afford gardening services would discover the joy of gardening.
I’ve also thought of getting our neighbors together to discuss the issue and come up with alternatives, but I’m not sure this would work. So I’m going to toss the issue out to you, our dear readers.
Do you have a leaf blower problem where you live? Is this just an LA problem, or is it a national or international problem?
Has your city attempted a ban? If so, is the ban enforced?
Has your city provided education for gardeners?
Have you ever had a conversation with your neighbors about leaf blowers?
What are ways you’ve thought of dealing with the leaf blowers?
What solutions do you think could shift the mow and blow paradigm?