From abandoned residential lots in Detroit and Youngstown to unused sections of public property in Houston and Louisville, municipalities are boldly trying the No-Mow approach for increased urban tree canopy. We've seen the numerous benefits of urban forests touted widely in the sustainability and planning communities in the past decade. Cities willing to take the progressive No-Mow approach incur perhaps one-hundredth the cost per acre than that of traditional landscape development. Cities transform entire neighborhoods as others grapple with individual lots.
Cities actually save money by canceling the schedules of mowing and leaf blowing on these properties. They may invest in "do not mow, reforestation in progress" signs to remind grounds crews and inform the public. They may invest in temporary fencing around the areas to reinforce the notion. On less-visible properties, they may do neither.
If there is funding available, landscape architects and urban foresters can still get involved on No-Mow projects. They can study the species composition and evaluate its suitability for ecological goals such as wildlife habitat. They can mark and arrange for the culling of less ecologically-desirable species. While ecologists traditionally consider urban areas as lost causes, they can always guide ecological restoration, even on the scale of a small lot.
No-Mow projects typically take 5 to 10 years before young trees and shrubs emerge enough from meadows to cast shade and provide a visual screen. Often initial growth will result in a visually-interesting patchwork of trees, shrubs, and meadow. It can often take 15 or 20 years for a solid patch of woods to take shape. Results generally come faster in sunnier, rainier climes.
Public tastes for natural-looking landscapes have evolved greatly in the last decade. A generation ago, most people looking at anything other than a manicured swath of turf and neatly pruned hedges would have been likely to call it "wild" or "derelict". In a modern, urbanized, diverse world, people are more likely to appreciate any green vegetation. Some older residents may complain about un-mowed properties. But this offers an educational opportunity. It's also only a temporary concern. In no time, "weeds" become "meadow" becomes "brush" becomes "woods".