According to a study done last year by UCLA anthropology professor Jeanne E. Arnold and Berkeley architect Ursula A. Lang, most Angelinos indeed spend very little time in their backyards.
Some snippets from the UCLA Magazine article discussing the study:
More than half the families — including one whose 15,000-square-foot yard boasted a pool, patio, swing set, trampoline and baseball pitching machine — never relaxed or spent time there. In some cases, no one even stepped outside. These yards were often two and three times as large as families’ homes, noted study co-authors Jeanne E. Arnold, UCLA professor of anthropology, and Ursula A. Lang, a Berkeley architect, but they received “the least hours of use per square foot … Neither the parents nor families as a unit are enjoying very much time of any sort, much less leisure, in these spaces.”
Arnold points out that the CELF data matches analyses drawn from a larger sample of middle-class families across the U.S. Americans spend more than $40 billion a year to upgrade outdoor spaces — places they never actually use. The “why” lies at the intersection of culture, myth and protective self-delusion.
A national consumer survey by the Propane Education and Research Council found that “home improvement projects tend to be driven by an underlying emotional need. Building or renovating outdoor rooms illustrates our need to relax and reconnect with family and friends.” Creating an elaborate, fabulous (and expensive) back yard often “is a fantasy,” says Santa Monica landscape architect Joseph Marek, who finds the CELF findings “shocking, but not a surprise. People watch home and garden shows on TV and think ‘wouldn’t it be great to have that.’ They imagine ‘if we have a wonderful space in the yard, we’ll be out there more.’ But the reality is that everyone is too busy.”
On the other hand, part of the reason so many families don’t have time for leisure is that we’re working frantically to finance the massive amounts of consumer goods we buy — and that includes the $599 outdoor recliner, “impervious to the elements” Santa Barbara sectional ($3,890) or Outdoor Room with 65-inch pop-up plasma TV, fire pit and three weatherproof recliners — suggested retail price, $60,000.
In the end, our beautiful, empty yards have become one more casualty of life in a Digital Age. They have become, in fact, just like so many of our stainless-steel, professional quality, and equally unused kitchens: elaborate, rather sad, set pieces crafted for the lives we wish we had, rather than those we actually do.
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