Social sciences perspective: weeds and urban space management
The intensive use of herbicides in city parks and gardens can lead to problems of residues in city waters (above the accepted standards), as this has been observed for example in Bretagne in the city of Rennes (FR). Tackling this problem implies changing management techniques for green spaces, but also changing the perception that citizens have of weeds. Menozzi has therefore undertaken a sociological study on the perception of weeds in cities, which is summarized below.
In Rennes (FR), in the framework of sustainable management of green areas, a project consisting of avoiding the use of phytosanitary products both in public and private spaces has been launched in 2 districts. The sociological study then consisted in showing inhabitants of these 2 districts pictures of places where spontaneous plants were present and to ask them their opinion on them. Many inhabitants were surprised that the pictures had been taken in their district and did not recognize the places. The enquiries also highlighted a lack of observation and recognition of plants. Very few of the species growing spontaneously were recognized, and plants were generally quoted under generic names such as “forget-me-not”, or “dandelion”. These species were generally designated as “weeds”, and were not considered to be in the right place in urban areas. It appeared that in the inhabitants’ perception, the city is opposed to the countryside. The presence of weeds in the city therefore appears out of place to the public, while these species are tolerated in areas such as riverbeds or along peripheral roads. Pictures showing spontaneous plants growing along railways were perceived as representing hostile environments. Interviewees associated areas where herbs grew with the presence of rats or snakes. Other fears linked to the presence of these plants included insecurity, and the potential risk of these plants to hide road signs. The presence of weeds was considered to make the place dirty and neglected. These plants were perceived differently according to the age and the socio-professional category of the respondents. In public and private areas, popular socio-professional classes as well as elders were sensitive to the cleanness of garden and had a negative opinion on “weeds”, as they regarded them as wild (i.e. uncontrolled by man). Weeds were better accepted by younger persons and middle and upper classes, who associated them with nature (as opposed to artificial), especially when these species are in flower. Although native species may be of interest for experts such as ecologists or biologists as part of “biodiversity”, this concept was not meaningful to the inhabitants. To be accepted in the city, weeds therefore need to be controlled. In addition, it appeared that the link between weeds and water pollution was not made by interviewed persons. Although these persons mentioned being concerned by environmental problems, they did not feel responsible for resolving them and placed the responsibility to other stakeholders, in particular blamed agricultural practices for water pollution.
Menozzi MJ (2007) “Mauvaises herbes”, qualité de l’eau et entretien des espaces. Natures Sciences Sociétés 15, 144-153