Has it come to this?
Artificial turf fields counting as open spaces



by Susan
"Is it still ‘open space’ if the grass on the ground is plastic?" asks a Washington Post writer.  Good question, because the State of Maryland is about to award at least $7 million in money for open spaces – intended to preserve and develop parkland – to cover 14 playing fields in fake turf.

Later on in the Post article, the state’s decision starts to not look as bad as the headline, though, because we learn that the funds are typically divided between preservation of natural places and upgrading other types of parklands, like recreational areas.  And on playing fields, the fake stuff is far less resource-intensive to maintain, though the article left out any mention of its environmental advantages, or the fact that much of it is made from recycled rubber, not plastic.

But here’s what the article does tell us: that the fake stuff doesn’t do what real turfgrass does – produce oxygen, filter rainwater or cool the air.  So we learn, despite all the turfgrass-bashing we’re reading these days, that real grass doesn’t look all that bad compared to "plastic."  And remember that on playing fields – and that’s what we’re talking about here – we have to have it, real or fake, and the drain on our dwindling water supply from keeping the real stuff alive is HUGE. 

Now on a super-local note, in nearby Silver Spring there’s a big plot of artificial turf in a busy pedestrian area, a temporary solution awaiting more development, and it’s WILDLY popular with the public.  It’s taken on a life of its own, with fans and defenders and lots of press coverage.  (That link includes a photo of the rather post-Apocalyptic landscape, which you can click to enlarge for the full effect.)  And sure, I like seeing people lying out in the sunshine, playing, and just hanging out in what looks almost like nature but really isn’t, at least the plant part.  But that’s a big deal to people like us.  So in the end it’s just SAD that people love this safe, sterile product and are turned off by real dirt and real plants.

But getting back to Maryland’s decision about funding open spaces, it’s seems so complicated, but maybe it isn’t.  A sensible-sounding spokesperson for an enviro group suggests to the Post writer that there’s plenty of really important natural land "at risk" that could better use the money.  That sounds about right to me.

Photo credit: Go Mustang Sports.


  1. We’ve been having similar battles in NYC. Part of the problem comes from the goals of PlaNYC2030. One goal is to have a park within ten minutes of every New Yorker. A fine goal, except that “active uses” are given priority for parks. Which means sports, which means pavement and other impermeable surfaces.

    In community discussions, I don’t use the term “open space.” I use the term “green space,” which is less subject to interpretation, or substitution.

  2. I don’t mind the use of “plastic” grass for sports fiels–as you mentioned, the resources that go into the upkeep of that much grass could be used better. What freaks me out is that anyone would actually enjoy sitting on the stuff. Ick. There is nothing like real, cool green grass to stretch out on on a hot summer day.

    And, I like Xris’ distinction–“green spaces” is a much more useful term than “open spaces.” Here in my little ‘burb, they developed an “open spaces” initiative, but, as in NYC, too often the open spaces are basketball courts, splash pools, and roller hockey rinks. Which would be fine, if they hadn’t ripped out our nice open, green, tree-shaded parks to put them in.

  3. The article that you mention on artificial lawn playing surfaces also failed to mention the “full environmental and economic picture” , they also got a few facts wrong too and omitted the beneficial offsets.

    It is true that a lush growing lawn produces oxygen but offset that by the huge amounts of carbon pollution that a two stroke lawn mowing machine puts into the air weekly to maintain the height of the sports lawn and you will find you are running at a deficit in the oxygen column.

    Add in the amazing amounts of inorganic fertilizers that are poured on sports lawns in order to keep them lush and producing oxygen and you also hit a negative deficit due to the phosphates that run off into the streams and into the ground water.

    Now lets talk safety.
    A professionally designed and installed artificial turf is far more safe in regards to broken bones and fractures due to its shock absorbing and ‘water filtering ‘ attributes – ( yes they got that fact wrong – a artificial turf does filtrate water ) .
    Also consider what your children are inhaling when they play on a highly fertilized sports field. … .. ever hear of bio- solids – yeah , basically its shit and not the kind that comes from the back ends of four legged animals. It’s sewage sludge and its one of the cheapest forms and widely used form of fertilizer on turf surfaces. Oh yummy.

    We haven’t touched on the main reason why administrators have decided that an artificial turf is a logical choice ( what , you thought they were thinking about your health, safety and the environment ? …. Cha ! )
    No silly, they were thinking about the M -O -N -E -Y .
    Money saved on water, ( a dwindling natural expensive resource) and money saved on over-all maintenance ( those gardeners want, and need, health insurance too ya know )

    How about sustainability, recycled resources and all that ‘feel responsibly good stuff’ about repurposing our consumers wastes ? Don’t you want to feel good about that ?
    Or would you rather see both plastic and rubber – ( they got that fact wrong too in the article) end up being buried in the garbage dumps producing huge amounts of methane gas ?

    I suggest that the Washington Post writer set up a good old fashion Pro and Con list and get his or her facts straight.
    When it is all measured out in carbon foot prints we’ll see who wins two tickets to the next sporting event on artificial turf.

  4. Daughter plays soccer and much prefers to play on the real stuff. No “rug burns”, the falls aren’t as hard. Ball plays totally different on fake stuff.

    Our state has grants for open space, and no active sport activities need apply. Unfortunately, they do not have much grant money to fund active sport playing fields construction or maintenance. Needs to be a balance.

  5. One thing people don’t necessarily think about with astro-turf/fake turf is how hot it is. As someone who has spent lots of time on a college astro-turf field I can tell you that it is easily 5-10 degrees hotter on it than on regular grass depending on the weather. It may very well be hotter. Grass at least will respirate water through its natural cycle. Turf doesn’t. The NFL uses a hybrid type of fake and real which is probably the best solution. It has greater durability and is more gentle on the athletes although more expensive. I’d rather see the money used in a conservation project anyway. That’s my 2 cents worth. 🙂

  6. The choice of Synthetic Turf really comes down to balancing assats. By utilizing the synthetics, is there a cost ssvings on maintence, some, water utilization, yes, etc. The simple fact is that the fields are more usable and can utilize more playing time than natural grass fields. This allows for a greater utilization of existing fields without having to carve new ones out of limited open space resources to meet ever increasing demands for scheduled activities.

  7. Yes, the synthetic grass will be definitely safe for sportsman as it has the shock absorbing capacity to avoid bone breaking and fracture.Also it provides oxygen, filter rainwater or cool the air. It is a good informative article.

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