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Doctoral thesis, 2019

Rethinking lawns as prevalent elements of urban green spaces : exploring sustainable lawn alternatives in Chinese mega-cities from social-cultural and ecological perspectives

Yang, Fengping


The lawn is one of the most visible elements of urban green spaces and Western landscape styles. China has seen a dramatic increase in planted lawn areas. However, there is an urgent need for sustainable lawn alternatives (SLTs) in China due to serious threats to the urban environment from intensive lawn maintenance and cultural inadequacy of lawns. This thesis attempts to examine the reasons behind the historical context and current situation of lawns in China and offers suggestions for SLTs via a case study of Xi’an using transdisciplinary research framework from social-cultural and ecological perspectives. A historical study was performed on reasons of lawn development in Chinese cities and modern European and Chinese examples of lawn alternatives by reviewing literature and through field observation. Face-to-face interviews, questionnaires and observations were conducted to evaluate how stakeholders and park visitors perceive lawns and how this affects their decisions in designing, managing and using lawns and lawn alternatives. To identify how the design and management shape plant and pollinator diversity, biodiversity inventories were conducted. Finally, results from the three studies were analysed following a framework based on theories in landscape sustainability and ecosystem services. The results suggested that the Chinese people’s paradigm of lawns is influenced by westernisation and globalisation after the 1840s. Lawns evolve from changes in the relation-ship between humans and the environment. In classical Chinese gardens, groundcover species were used according to their ecological characteristics and suitability to site conditions. Lawns in Xi’an have the same core grass species as lawns used in geographically distant regions, contributing to lawn plant species homogenisation worldwide. Intensive maintenance negatively affected plant species diversity and native plant species, while in more planned green spaces, older and larger lawns harbour diverse plant species and native plant species. The aesthetic value and regulating services of lawns are mostly recognised by park visitors and stakeholders although lawns impair the provision of some regulating services for the intensive maintenance. Lawns fail to provide some culture services because of their limited accessibility and symbolism of Western culture. Pollination services can be provided if certain spontaneous native plant species are allowed to flower. Concrete suggestions for SLTs in China were proposed, although challenges that impinge the transition to SLTs were identified. Meanwhile, current social-cultural, environmental and economic conditions in China encourage their implementation. The thesis contributes to knowledge that addresses the mismatch between perceived and actual ecosystem services provided by lawns. The results can be used as references for design and management of SLTs in practice.


urban green space, lawn, sustainable lawn alternatives, biodiversity, ecosystem services, social perception

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2019, number: 2019:6
ISBN: 978-91-7760-330-6, eISBN: 978-91-7760-331-3
Publisher: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Yang, Fengping
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

URI (permanent link to this page)