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Artifact: Political landscapes

Text by Saira Abdulrehman

Front lawns have the unique quality of being spaces that are both public and private. While ownership is private, the visual connection the front lawn has to public streets, parks, and sidewalks makes it an incredibly public way to convey a message to those passing by. Some neighbourhoods provide guidelines on how your front lawn must be kept to maintain a character or quality of the wider area.

Not unlike civic architecture, lawn signs act as signifiers for something the private residents or the neighbourhood as a whole represent. Lawn signs can reinforce road rules or advertise community events, but they can also be valuable methods of broadcasting political support/advocacy or providing cultural commentary. The latter transforms the lawn sign into physical demarcations of what type of neighbourhood you are entering, and the general atmosphere of that environment.

Lawn signs in Toronto during the Ontario Provincial Election. IMAGE/ Josh Sherman

Lawn signs can also act as signifiers of the class, race, and socio-economic status of a neighbourhood. Some lawn signs such as “slow down” or “neighbourhood watch” convey the message that you are entering a neighbourhood that is actively monitoring who is entering the space and how they are occupying it.

With so many forms of digital media available to us to broadcast our opinions, the lawn sign still remains a quintessential part of residential neighbourhoods. People use their front lawns as an extension of their homes and lawn signs, in a way, become thresholds to pass before entering their private space. We get an idea of what kind of people live here before even entering, begging the question: what is it that you want to say to the public before they enter your private space?

Lawn signs in Toronto during the Ontario Provincial Election. IMAGE/ Josh Sherman


BIO/ Saira Abdulrehman is an experienced urban designer working between Toronto Canada and London, U.K. (where she is a chartered landscape architect) since 2015. She is one of the founders of The [204] Design Collective. She is a member of the Landscape Institute’s Diversity and Inclusion board, the Urbanistas London, and the Ground Editorial Board.