My, your lawn is lush and green…especially where the dogs were!

Record temperatures in Chicago have meant green lawns ahead of schedule. This is not usually considered a bad thing: the brown or dormant grass of winter has given way to verdant lawns that wouldn’t look out of place in the many lawn commercials one can see at this time of year. However, in walking around, I noticed that these lawns are often punctuated by more lush spots, presumably from the work of dogs. Here is one picture from an adjacent neighborhood:

Some thoughts about this:

1. The typical “perfect lawn” doesn’t include such spots. So if someone has pets and wants a great-looking lawn, how do you balance these two interests? Cut the lawn a lot? I haven’t noticed any products talking about this kind of fertilization.

2. Perhaps this is a bigger problem in townhome/condo/apartment neighborhoods where there are common lawns. To curb their dog, people walk about the neighborhood and use the common areas. Why use spaces close to your home when you can take advantage of other areas? (Additionally: you are paying for those other areas so why not?)

3. Some patterns emerge: I would estimate at least 80% of the spots were within four feet of the sidewalk. This likely says more about the dog owners than the dogs: the owners want to stay on the sidewalk so the dogs have to stay close by. Also, taller objects, signs, mailboxes, trees, etc. tended to have lusher grass around them. Here is another shot that also shows the first pattern:

Does anyone get upset about this desecration of the lawns? If the battle is between dogs and a perfect lawn, it looks like the dogs win at this time of year.

Defining and explaining sidewalk rage

There was road rage. But the anger is not just limited to the roadway: now there is sidewalk rage. Here is a description of this phenomenon that is being defined and studied by a several academics:

Researchers say the concept of “sidewalk rage” is real. One scientist has even developed a Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale to map out how people express their fury. At its most extreme, sidewalk rage can signal a psychiatric condition known as “intermittent explosive disorder,” researchers say. On Facebook, there’s a group called “I Secretly Want to Punch Slow Walking People in the Back of the Head” that boasts nearly 15,000 members…

Signs of a sidewalk rager include muttering or bumping into others; uncaringly hogging a walking lane; and acting in a hostile manner by staring, giving a “mean face” or approaching others too closely, says Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii who studies pedestrian and driver aggression…

How one interprets the situation is key, researchers say. Ragers tend to have a strong sense of how other people should behave. Their code: Slower people keep to the right. Step aside to take a picture. And the left side of an escalator should be, of course, kept free for anyone wanting to walk up…

People slow down when distracted by other activities, too. A 2006 study by the City of New York and the NYC Department of City Planning showed smokers walk 2.3% slower than the average walker’s 4.27 feet per second. Tourists creep along at an 11% more-leisurely rate than the average walker, while cellphone talkers walk 1.6% slower, according to the study. Headphone wearers, by contrast, clipped along at a 9% faster rate than average.

Looking at this from a sociological perspective, sidewalks are problematic because they have a lack of formal rules. They are often wide, particularly in big cities, but there are no markers of where to walk. The situation can become more complicated with dogs, skateboarders, bikers, strollers, tourists, segways, and more. So would the answer to this problem be to institute some guidelines? Why not post signs in public places that escalators should have open lanes on the left?

Yet this lack of rules on the sidewalk can often make them fascinating places to watch or study (if one is not walking at a quick pace through a crowd of people with other objectives). For Jane Jacobs, the sidewalk was where people in the neighborhood gathered to interact and check up on each other. For Mitchell Duneier in Sidewalk, these spaces are where homeless street vendors and others mix, conduct business, and react to differential treatment from the police.

(As a side note, the strategy of the journalist in the second paragraph to cite the size of a relevant Facebook group is a harmful one. This is an interesting article about academic research on a new phenomenon – how does a Facebook group support this exploration? It is simply a number divorced of any context. What if the group had 500 members or if it had 10,000 members? Perhaps it is an attempt to be relevant. But it doesn’t help establish the facts about the phenomenon of sidewalk rage.)