Grove in Forest Landscape

Landscapes and Changing Behavior

We can change behavior of people by how we maintain landscape & parks


Copyright 2011 - 16 by Mario Vaden


Most people don't realize how much we can affect behavior of people by the way we maintain landscaping, parks or grounds. Design elements and plant selection can affect behavior too, but will share just one story to prove this point.

Green lawn at golf course green with sand bunkers


Years ago, I worked at several golf courses including some country clubs. At one point, another greenskeeper and myself began working for a Portland munipal course: Eastmoreland Golf Course. I came from Columbia Edgewater Country Club and the other man from Tualatin Country Club.

Eastmoreland's bunkers (sand traps) at that time were raggity looking. Sand eroded from the banks down to low spots, edges were irregular and weedy looking, and spots puddled from bad drainage or this sand.

Morning duties for greenskeepers is to move the hole on the green for the flag and smooth-out the sand bunkers. Technically and ethically the golfers are supposed to smooth their own foot prints after they take a shot. But every morning, we would find 2 or 3 sets of foot print trails in each bunker. Something that did not happen the private country clubs.

Not even thinking about the footprint issue --- the ex-Tualatin greenskeeper and I asked the Eastmoreland superintendent for a go-ahead to dial-in every bunker on the 18 hole municipal golf course. He agreed and over a couple of months we finished them all. We gave them a crisp detailed edge, modified the outlines, added sand as needed, increased the depth, and corrected drainage.

In the end, the bunkers were so nice they were as good looking as Portland Country Club - probably better. We should know. Greenskeepers had a fringe benefit of golfing at other golf courses and country clubs. So we played at Portland Country Club, Riverside CC, Waverly CC, etc.. Nobody had nicer looking bunkers than the ones we improved.

So what else changed beside just looking nice?

After the maintenance improvement we went to each golf green to move the pins, and there were hardly any footprints in the bunkers. Maybe 2 or 3 sets of footprints per an entire 9 hole side of the course. Previously there were several sets of footprints per bunker - about 900% worse.

And there were already signs on the golf course before all of this meant to remind golfers to rake after themselves. So we learned that taking maintenance to the highest level actually changed the behavior of people and eliminated the problem in this case. Certainly other golfers heeded signs and knew better. But the improved maintenance earned a respect that dealt with the rest.

Keep this in mind when you design or maintain landscaping, parks or campuses. If you let the care go neglected, some people follow that lead. If you take exceptional care, expect it to be treated with respect.

Even the way we dress can alter the events in of a day.

Years ago, I recall being in a Goodwill second-hand store looking for spare table game pieces, and wearing grubby work clothes after a full day pruning. Before saying no restroom was available, the employee looked at me head to foot. Close to that point in time, I was downtown Portland and had an extra hour before an appointment. Wearing slacks, leather shoes and a nice shirt, I stepped into a business that sells appliances. Then asked where I could get a snack or lunch nearby. Their first recommendation was an expensive French restaurant, even though there was a dozen more affordable places in-between.

Some of these days are never forgotten.

I edited this page again March, 2016, after posting a page about human impact and activity in a coast redwood grove. In that situation, I believe signs will be the best solution because the same maintenance strategy really isn't an option. But it reminded me of this page, first written back in 2011, about the 1980s experience.