Urban Garden Denver Blog

Peer Effects

My lawn looks terrible this spring. The dandelions are taking over in the back yard and I am embarrassed to be “that neighbor” — the one who spews weed seeds into other yards with every little breeze. I panicked at the volume of dandelions this week and went out and just pulled off seed heads. I know I really need to dig out the roots to solve the problem, but I couldn’t stand looking at the puffy sea of lawn failure. If I didn’t care about my neighbors, or didn’t have neighbors, or didn’t have a garden blog, I might shrug off my dandelion problem. But I do care – I have great neighbors and their lawns look great (even though my flowers are better). The houses on both sides of me are rentals, but the owners have sprinkler systems and yard care that keeps the lawns looking good. I am grateful for that effort, and I try to do my part through a decent lawn and nice flowers. My front lawn is ok, I had to pull off a few seed heads, but not too many. But the back yard is gone over to the dandelion epidemic. It only makes me feel slightly better to observe around town that I think this has been a bad spring for dandelions.

For all the negative ink spilled over peer pressure, which is when we don’t want our teens to follow the crowd into bad behavior, having peers and caring about their opinions isn’t all necessarily bad, sometimes it improves our behavior. My son is researching “peer effects” in graduate school. Peer effects can be positive or negative. For instance, when a group of kids in a school work together as a team and through social norms improve the academic environment for everyone, that is a positive peer effect. However, if you hang out with people who have unhealthy eating habits, the negative peer effect can make you fat. There are academic research papers on these topics because researchers want to understand the community dynamics that can set up an area for success or failure.

The peer effect in my neighborhood is a good thing. Because most people have nice looking yards, the slackers want to do better and work a bit more on their yards. I promise I’ll dig out some dandelions all the way down to the roots this weekend!

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