o-grass

Dead grass is pictured outside of the University Suites on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

My mom has always called me an old soul. I don’t think she meant the “You kids get off my lawn!” shouting type, but apparently that is what I have become.

When I was standing waiting for the elevators at the 50/50 Apartments, I noticed some glaring brown streaks through the grassy areas beside the sidewalks. Wandering feet had created a dirt path, around two feet wide, less than three feet from the sidewalk.

Are kids these days really that disrespectful? Have the boomers correctly labeled us as the lazy generation? While I don’t believe that is widely true, there is truth in the traipsing. Why can’t people make the three-step diversion to the sidewalk? Please, stay off my lawn — sorry, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s grass.

While researching this article, I learned that my frustration with pedestrian traffic is not unique. There is an ongoing feud among urban planners, and between those planners and pedestrians, regarding “desire paths.” Desire paths are all the little shortcuts and carved trails created by wandering or rushing feet, specifically the ones that are contrary to design or planning.

One side of the desire paths dispute argues that the paths are a natural representation of people’s desire for connectivity to nature; why stay on the pavement when you can walk through the trees or grass? Another argument for desire paths is that they are a way for city dwellers to fight back against urban plans that were decided without their input.

While I understand both of these arguments, in the case of our campus, the creation of desire paths and the subsequent destruction of green space does more harm than good.

Even though it may be small compared to larger areas such as the Union green space, street green space, like the bit of grass between University Suites and The 50/50, is still green space. These spaces provide physical, mental and social benefits to the people who live around them. Green spaces also provide a number of environmental advantages.

A grass barrier between the sidewalk and the road is also more aesthetically pleasing than the alternatives. No one wants an ugly campus, and these natural areas go a long way in making our areas easier on the eye.

Someone worked hard to make that grass look nice. UNL’s maintenance and facilities staff are responsible for over 325 acres of green space between both campuses, plus an additional almost 300 acres of paved areas. 

No one wants to have an ugly campus, and our landscaping crews work hard to prevent that. Trampling part of their efforts is disrespectful to them and everyone who cares about the appearance of our campus.

Also — in case you forgot — our climate isn’t in the best condition. While the environmental pros and cons of lawns are debated, grass is still better than compacted dirt or pavement. It still absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen like all living plants.

It would be great if UNL considered more environmentally friendly alternatives to grass and worked on more sustainable landscaping practices, but that is a separate argument.

Perhaps the sidewalk crossing on R Street should have been more logically planned; the door from University Suites stairwell lines up perfectly with The 50/50’s door, but the sidewalk doesn’t. It wouldn’t make sense to rip up and redo the sidewalk because the crosswalk is five feet further over than it should be. Avoiding the sidewalk and walking right through the grass is simply lazy. It saves ten feet, at the most. 

There is merit to some of the arguments for desire paths. Maybe the places we can and can’t walk shouldn’t be designated for us, but they are. A silent sauntering protest will not change that.

The green space we have needs to be cared for. Someone works hard to maintain it, and it isn’t free to do so. So for Mother Earth, the UNL landscapers and me, could you please be a little more mindful of your feet? I won’t ask you damn kids again.

Megan Buffington is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at meganbuffington@dailynebraskan.com.