Riney-Kehrberg on Lang, 'Living with Yards: Negotiating Nature and the Habits of Home'

Ursula Lang
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

Ursula Lang. Living with Yards: Negotiating Nature and the Habits of Home. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2022. Illustrations. xvi + 199 pp. $130.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-228-00856-9; $37.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-228-00898-9

Reviewed by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg (Iowa State University) Published on H-Environment (October, 2022) Commissioned by Daniella McCahey (Texas Tech University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58157

Living with Yards is geographer Ursula Lang’s study of how a selection of Minneapolis residents live in and with their yards. The book begins with a photo essay examining how people in the city have used their yards over time and then moves into a short historical examination, followed by the author’s research with forty-five yards in three different neighborhoods and the people who live with them. The structure of the book is somewhat loose. It is not your standard academic text. There are many photographs. There are brief excerpts from “yard diaries” kept by individuals as a part of the research project. Lang devotes the last portion of the book to a discussion of the social experience of yards and the way yards can be adapted and transformed into more equitable communal spaces. The author hopes that in the future it will be possible for more people to capture the “radical potential” of yards (p. 171).

The author has provided an interesting meditation on yards in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the limited discussion of research methodology points to a significant problem with the text. The reader is left wondering who are these people and to what degree are their experiences in any way representative of those of the larger population of Minneapolis, let alone the United States as a whole? I came away from the book with the impression that the author’s demographic skewed toward the older portion of the population. This seems logical in some ways, since older people are more likely to have the time for gardening, sitting, and other activities that happen in yards. On the other hand, it also seems strange, since much of the historical impetus for the development of the suburban lawn came from the desires of adults to provide safe play spaces for children. What do children do with yards? They receive very little mention in the book and do not even merit an entry in the index. Perhaps the place in which I live is atypical, but I cannot imagine an analysis of yards in my small mid-American city that did not take into account the trampolines, swings, and Little Tykes play sets spilling out into public view. They are every bit as much a part of this urban landscape as the gardens, patios, and fences.

All of this is to say that the book feels somehow incomplete. The author has undertaken interesting research on an important topic, but I am left wanting to know more. Because of how the author’s research design has seemingly limited the study, there would also seem to be many other ways yards are used left to explore.

Citation: Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. Review of Lang, Ursula, Living with Yards: Negotiating Nature and the Habits of Home. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. October, 2022. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58157

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