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ASHS 2024 Annual Conference

 

“Nothing Beats Nature”: Park Visitor Preferences for Natural Turfgrass and Artificial Turf: A Case Study

Authors:
Michael R. Barnes Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 305 Alderman Hall, 1970 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA

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Eric Watkins Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 305 Alderman Hall, 1970 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA

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Abstract

Green spaces comprising natural turfgrass are ubiquitous in urban areas globally and allow for a variety of ecosystem services that benefit nature and people. However, traditional natural turfgrass is often critiqued for the number of inputs (e.g., fertilizer, water) required to maintain it. With those critiques in mind, some cities have turned to artificial turf as an alternative groundcover despite environmental and human health concerns (e.g., heavy metal leaching, volatile organic compounds). Research of artificial turf has been minimal compared with that of the growth of installations, especially related to social aspects of the surface. The current research used an in-person experiential case study of park visitors in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area of Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN, USA, to investigate how individuals perceived artificial turf compared with natural turfgrass as it relates to potential uses (e.g., resting/relaxing) and beliefs about sustainability (e.g., environmental impacts). Overall, participants preferred natural turfgrass across all uses but two (recreational and organized sports). The largest differences were observed for the use for picnic areas and the use for play areas for pets. Participants also perceived natural turfgrass as more sustainable than artificial turf, corresponding to the contribution to human health and well-being. In contrast, participants equally perceived the use of these surfaces in terms of natural resources. These findings have implications for public land managers, urban planners, city councils, and other stakeholders because they consider the adoption of artificial turf or other possible alternatives (e.g., low-input turfgrasses, bee lawns) to traditional turfgrass in the communities and their sustainability, maintenance, and cost-savings.

Urban green spaces provide critical access to nature for residents and, within these spaces, natural turfgrass comprises a significant portion of urban vegetation globally (Ignatieva et al. 2020). Natural turfgrass provides a variety of ecosystem services directly and by their role as a multifunctional groundcover that facilitates beneficial activities related to health and well-being (Barnes et al. 2020a; Francoeur et al. 2021; Monteiro 2017), including spaces for rest, relaxation, recreation, and accommodating a variety of social interactions (Barnes and Watkins 2022a; Barnes et al. 2020a). Ecologically, natural turfgrasses are an important part of urban green infrastructure by preventing erosion, sequestering carbon, and assisting in the management of stormwater via filtration and runoff mitigation (Elderbrock et al. 2020; Stier et al. 2013; Wang et al. 2022). Additionally, natural turfgrass can assist in mitigating urban heat island effects, which can be critical with more frequent heat events (Francoeur et al. 2021; Wu et al. 2007). However, natural turfgrass green spaces are often criticized by multiple stakeholders (e.g., homeowners, land managers, decision makers) because of their high use of inputs (e.g., water, fertilizer) and labor (Barnes et al. 2020b; Ignatieva et al. 2020; Monteiro 2017). With these critiques in mind, municipalities have increasingly turned to artificial turf to fulfill the dual mandates of turf-like spaces and sustainability goals.

The term “artificial turf” refers to synthetic surfaces that are designed to “mimic the appearance and sports performance” of natural turfgrasses (Cheng et al. 2014). Benefits of artificial turf surfaces include lower input requirements and higher surface consistency and durability, especially during or after weather events (Cheng et al. 2014; Fleming, 2011; Serensits et al. 2013). Additionally, artificial turf surfaces can be used more frequently because of the lack of recovery time compared with that of natural turfgrass (Serensits et al. 2013). However, previous research has found that artificial turf surfaces can have negative impacts related to human health and well-being and the environment. For example, artificial turf surfaces significantly increase the likelihood of heat stress experienced by people using them for sports and general recreation (Liu and Jim 2021), exacerbate local urban heat island effects, and contribute to climate change (Golden 2021; Twomey et al. 2016).

In addition to heat effects, artificial turf surfaces can leach heavy metals and plastics, and they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that impact both human and ecological health (Massey et al. 2020; Menichini et al. 2011). Despite past work, a significant amount of further research is necessary to understand both specific aspects of artificial turf surfaces and comprehensive lifecycle and maintenance assessments (Cheng et al. 2014).

Although biophysical research has proceeded, few studies have addressed social factors related to artificial turf surfaces and, specifically, how individuals other than athletes perceive them (Strutzenberger et al. 2020). Using a recent online survey, Barnes and Watkins (2022a, 2022b) found that residents in the United States broadly preferred natural turfgrass surfaces for the majority of uses (e.g., playing with a pet, exercising), but not for playing organized sports. Additionally, individuals viewed natural turfgrass as being more sustainable overall (e.g., they viewed it as better for human and environmental health) except for the natural resources required to maintain it.

The current study used the in-person experiences of artificial turf and natural turfgrass by park users in Minnesota and a follow-up survey similar to one used by Barnes and Watkins (2022a, 2022b) to obtain a better understanding of individual perceptions related to the potential use and sustainability beliefs after direct interactions with each surface so that perceptions could be reflected in real-world scenarios. There were three primary research questions: what are the real-world experiences of park visitors using artificial turf and natural turfgrass in Minnesota?; after in-person experience, which surface type is preferred?; and what are the sustainability beliefs regarding surface types after in-person experiences? All questions were applied in such a way that in-person perceptions and those gathered via online surveys during previous research could be compared. It should be noted that terminology regarding this area is difficult to specify because of different language used by the public, scientists, and industry. An example of a common colloquialism is the use of the word “grass” by the public to describe natural turfgrass. For this study, terminology was selected to ensure contrast between the two surface types.

Materials and Methods

Research sites and context.

Data were collected at two parks in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (TCMA), MN, USA. The two parks were Pamela Park in Edina (44°53′38.4″N, 93°19′58.8″W) and Como Park in St. Paul (44°58′30.5″N, 93°09′01.1″W). Parks were chosen because of the presence of both natural turfgrass and artificial turf surfaces and the proximity of surfaces to make it easier for participants to interact with each surface without having to travel a long distance (Fig. 1). Both parks are open to the public, with limited times reserved for various sports league games and practices. The relative sizes of the parks are similar; Pamela Park is 25 ha and the McMurry Fields section of Como Park is 28 ha. Both locations had third-generation artificial turf (i.e., artificial turf with infill) (Jastifer et al. 2019), whereas the natural turfgrass comprised common cool-season species, such as Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), and annual bluegrass (Poa annua L). Surface temperature readings were performed using an infrared thermometer (model IR205; General Tools & Instruments LLC, Secaucus, NJ) at each park site and each surface on data collection days. Average temperatures for natural surfaces ranged from 24 to 28 °C, with an average of 25 °C, whereas artificial surface temperatures ranged from 35 to 56 °C, with an average of 46 °C. Ambient air temperatures at the sites ranged between 22 and 31 °C, with an average of 27 °C. Temperatures were measured where the surfaces were in the closest proximity at both parks, which is also where most interactions by participants occurred. At Pamela Park, temperatures were measured at the southeast corner of the natural turfgrass field and the southwest corner of the artificial turf field. At Como Park, temperatures were measured at the southwest corner of the natural turfgrass area and the northwest corner of the artificial turf field. Five temperature readings were performed for each surface in a 2.7- × 2.7-m grid at the four corners and in the center of the grid from a height of 91 cm. Average temperatures reflected a total of 40 measurements per surface over the course of the data collection period.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

View of the two study sites. (Top) Como Park, St. Paul, MN, with artificial turf in the foreground of the image and natural turfgrass on the slope in the background. (Bottom) Pamela Park, Edina, MN, with natural turfgrass on the left side of the image and artificial turf on the right side.

Citation: HortScience 58, 4; 10.21273/HORTSCI17077-23

Participants and procedures.

Surveying occurred between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM on weekends between 24 Jul and 26 Sep 2021. Surveyors determined he eligibility of participation based on established criteria (e.g., older than age 18 years, proficient and comfortable completing a survey in English); all individuals who met those criteria were eligible to participate. Participants were able to complete the survey on paper or digitally via their smartphone by scanning a quick response (QR) code that the surveyors presented. Survey participants were asked to interact with both surfaces and then complete the survey. The type of interaction was not specified by the surveyors to allow participants the freedom to interact with the surfaces in ways that made them comfortable. Interactions included touching, walking, running, and rolling around on each surface. An estimated time of 5 to 10 min were spent on each surface. The survey asked participants about their first thoughts about each surface type (open-ended), the reasons behind their thoughts (open-ended), and questions related to the likelihood of use (e.g., picnic) (Likert type scale, 1–7; 1 = extremely unlikely, 7 = extremely likely), sustainability items (e.g., environmental impacts) (Likert type scale 1–7; 1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree), open-ended reasons for responses, and basic demographic questions (age, race, sex, have children, and/or have pets). The total average survey response time was ∼12 min, and the complete survey is available in Supplementary Material S1.

Analysis.

Descriptive statistics and additional statistics of quantitative data were determined using Stata version 17. Paired sample t tests were conducted to compare artificial turf and natural turfgrass use ratings and sustainability beliefs (α = 0.01). Cohen’s d effect size values were reported for all significant t tests and interpreted as small (0.2), medium (0.5), and large (0.8) (Cohen 1992). Qualitative data were first cleaned and coded from both paper and digital surveys. Qualitative data analysis was performed using an inductive content analysis involving the process of reading and organizing narrative responses, grouping similar responses, and deriving themes across groupings (Kyngäs 2020). Coding validation was accomplished via an independently conducted coding procedure by two researchers. Researchers independently coded responses; potential conflicts (n = 5) were identified and resolved through dialogue and recoding when necessary. Specifically, in the current context, narrative responses were organized by surface type (artificial turf or natural turfgrass), and themes created for both groups. Individual participant responses were identified using a labeling scheme (e.g., P1, P2, P3) referring to individuals within the sample.

Results

Fifty-two complete responses comprised the final sample (Pamela Park, n = 29; Como Park, n = 23). The average age of participants was 34 years (minimum age, 18 years; maximum age, 73 years); 52% were women and 86% were white. The majority of the sample had pets (60%) but did not have children (77%). Table 1 presents results comparing the two surface types after interaction related to use and sustainability beliefs. Ratings for natural turfgrass were higher across all uses. Natural turfgrass was significantly preferred for 8 out of 10 uses, except for playing organized and recreational sports. Effect sizes were large for picnic space, playing with children and pets, resting/relaxing, and aesthetic enjoyment. Medium effect sizes were found for individual and group exercise uses. Ratings for sustainability beliefs were significantly higher for natural turfgrass than for artificial turf for four out of five beliefs. The belief related to the use of less natural resources was equal for surface types and nonsignificant. Effect sizes for significant differences ranged from medium for “made of sustainable materials and environmentally friendly” to large for “contributes to human health and well-being.”

Table 1.

Means of participant perceptions of likelihood of use and sustainability beliefs and results of paired t tests and effect sizes when comparing artificial turf and natural turfgrass.

Table 1.

Table 2 presents the list of key codes and themes across artificial turf and natural turfgrass surfaces and their prevalence across the four open-ended questions. The three main themes derived from individual codes were look and feel, performance and use, and human and environmental health. The codes presented in Table 2 included 96% of the total coded responses. The remaining 4% of responses were from individuals stating their preference for one of the surface types without a specified reason. Within these responses, six individuals stated a preference for natural turfgrass and one individual preferred artificial turf.

Table 2.

Results of a thematic analysis of open-ended questions including the major themes and underlying codes comparing the frequency of mentioning artificial turf, natural turfgrass, and both.

Table 2.

Look and feel.

The look and feel theme was the largest and centers on individuals’ experiences with how the surfaces looked overall and how each surface felt while interacting with it. The relative heat or coolness of each surface was a large factor in this theme (Table 2), with individuals commenting on the heat associated with artificial turf [for example, “the artificial turf is a lot hotter on the foot than the natural [turfgrass] surface” (P1)] and making a direct comparison between the two surfaces. Other individuals commented that the artificial surface heat issues were impacted by the weather, for example, “very hot when already hot and sunny outside” (P9), illustrating the perception of increased discomfort caused by surface heat relative to air temperature and other conditions. In contrast, individuals discussed natural turfgrass coolness, with one individual stating, “it does feel more comfortable to lie down on due to the temperature” (P2), thus demonstrating a direct connection between thermal comfort and use. Texture was also an important factor related to the two surfaces. Participants often linked heat and texture together for artificial turf, with one individual stating, “it’s hot and rubbery” (P15), and another stating, “it is hot, shorter grass, [and] it is harder” (P11), thereby connecting elements that lead to a more negative experience. A similar pattern was found for natural turfgrass, for example, “soft and not too hot” (P16), with multiple participants describing the surface as “soft,” “plush,” and “cushy.” Specific aesthetics discussed were more often related to artificial turf and were broadly positive, with participants describing the surface as clean and “nice [and] well kept” (P2). The two mentions of aesthetics were positive, but in diverging directions; one participant described the surface as “well kept” (P35), and another expressed that it was “messier—in a good way” (P50). Overall, the look and feel theme showed a preference among participants for natural grass that was related to both cooling and texture, whereas aesthetics was equal for the two surfaces.

Performance and use.

The second theme was related to performance and use and focused on participant discussions of characteristics of the surfaces that impact their performance and general use. The largest factor within this theme centered on surface consistency (Table 2). Participants frequently had diverging beliefs related to the general consistency of artificial turf and the inconsistency of natural grass. This is highlighted by an individual stating, “it’s nice not to worry about potholes and uneven ground” (P12), when speaking about artificial turf. Comparatively, comments related to natural turfgrass, such as, “there are a lot of holes and uneven grass” (P1), indicated a divergence in consistency between surfaces. Surface consistency also had a role in individuals reflecting on improved traction on artificial turf, for example, “the surface gives good traction in all conditions” (P6). Alternatively, participants commented that natural turfgrass had “less traction especially when wet” (P5), demonstrating a gap in beliefs of the overall performance benefits related to artificial turf surfaces. Both surface consistency and traction were also related to participants expressing that artificial turf surfaces had better drainage properties than natural turf surfaces, with individuals frequently discussing the lack of water pooling and the ability for artificial turf surfaces to be used during adverse weather conditions. A discrepancy in performance between minimally and highly maintained surfaces existed; although most individuals discussed how artificial turf might require less maintenance, several indicated that a well-maintained natural turf surface would be preferable, with one participant specifically stating, “most minimally maintained natural turfgrass surfaces gets bumpy…but if it is well maintained, [I] would prefer playing on it every time” (P46); this point was echoed by several others who discussed a discrepancy between minimally maintained and highly maintained natural turfgrass surfaces related to performance. Overall, the performance and use theme exposed a preference for artificial turf surfaces because of their surface consistency and predictability. However, participants expressed that natural turfgrass surfaces would be preferred if maintained properly to alleviate surface inconsistencies.

Human and environmental health.

The theme of human and environmental health centered on perceptions of the two surfaces and potential impacts related to human health and well-being and environmental concerns. Injury risk associated with the surfaces was the largest factor within this theme (Table 2). Artificial turf risks centered on abrasions. One individual was concerned about “burning wounds after sliding” (P13), and another stated, “I wind up with terrible turf burns after I play” (P37), exemplifying both potential and actual injuries. Additionally, individuals explained a more general issue with an unpleasant experience of falling on artificial turf. In contrast, individuals were more positive about falling on natural turfgrass, with one individual explaining that it is “much better to fall on” (P5), and another saying it is “softer to land on” (P4). However, individuals were concerned about injury risk related to the surface inconsistency of natural turfgrass, as illustrated by a participant explaining, “minimally maintained natural turfgrass surfaces gets bumpy and [it’s] easy for athletes to get injured” (P46). Participants discussed apprehension related to potential human health impacts of artificial turf, for example, “what is this? is it tires? is it healthy to breathe? is it healthy to ingest?” (P39); that participant specifically wondered about various health and material aspects. Other participants were more direct about their concerns related to artificial turf, for example, “the materials in artificial turf are definitely not environmentally friendly, and while they are typically made from recyclable materials, they aren’t exactly sustainable” (P14). Others cited more specific health concerns, with one being concerned about “carcinogenic rubber” (P36), referring to the crumb rubber infill used on artificial turf sports fields. Conversely, participants suggested that natural grass would be beneficial, for example, “[I] generally would expect [a] natural lawn to have more contribution to the overall ecosystem” (P46); this sentiment that was echoed by other participants. Individuals did discuss that natural turfgrass would require more inputs, for example, “I would guess natural grass requires more watering and tending [to] with a lawn mower” (P36), and “a lot of water use for natural turf” (P3), highlighting concerns related to input use, specifically water. Overall, the human and environmental health theme uncovered participant concerns with injury risk related to both surface types, but for contrasting reasons. Additionally, participants noted health concerns related to artificial turf because of its materials and potential environmental impacts, whereas individuals were concerned about the input use of natural turfgrass.

Discussion

Although natural turfgrass greenspaces are an important part of urban ecosystems, concerns related to input use and maintenance requirements have prompted individuals and municipalities to seek alternative forms of groundcover to provide similar benefits; one leading alternative is artificial turf. Despite the growth in the adoption of artificial turf across urban greenspaces, few studies have investigated social factors related to artificial turf in a nonsports setting. Specifically, this study looked at how residents feel about artificial turf and natural turfgrass after having interacted with it and considering the likelihood of use, sustainability beliefs, and narrative perceptions of each surface type.

Residents of the TCMA found that individuals had significantly positive views of natural turfgrass compared with those of artificial turf. Positive perceptions of natural turfgrass existed across uses, sustainability beliefs, and narrative responses after experiencing each surface.

Individuals strongly preferred natural turfgrass to artificial turf across for all but two uses: playing organized sports and playing recreational sports. The largest differences in perceptions were observed for playing with children and pets and the use of the surface as a picnic space. These findings largely align with previous research performed using an online sample conducted by Barnes and Watkins (2022a), but with much larger effect sizes than the previous online sample. This divergence can most likely be attributed to the in-person interactions with both surfaces, especially for the three largest differences previously mentioned that rely on specific characteristics of the surfaces. In the present study, individuals tangibly experienced the surfaces (e.g., texture, hardness, temperature), which cannot be conveyed in an online setting and is critical for holistically understanding natural environments (Hedblom et al. 2019). Several observations by participants aligned with previous biophysical research comparing artificial turf and natural turfgrass characteristics. Specifically, participants discussed the hardness of artificial turf. Artificial turf fields can increase in hardness over time without proper maintenance and lead to increased injury rates (Dickson et al. 2021; Fleming et al. 2020; McMurtry and Fiedler 2019). The thermal comfort of a surface is also a crucial element and was cited by participants often. Artificial turf surfaces are known to become significantly hotter than natural turfgrass; therefore, they can contribute to extreme heat stress, especially in children (Abraham 2019; Liu and Jim 2021; Pfautsch et al. 2022). Related to performance aspects associated with sports or recreational purposes, participants commented on the traction and injury risk of each surface. Although individuals viewed artificial turf as having more traction, especially in wet conditions, previous research suggested that artificial turf surfaces can have too much traction, which can lead to increased incidences of lower limb injuries (Kent et al. 2021; Villwock et al. 2009). Abrasion-type injuries are common to multiple sports and activities and were perceived by individuals in this study and past research as being more likely to occur on artificial turf than on natural turfgrass surfaces (Poulos et al. 2014; Twomey et al. 2019).

Surface characteristics related to texture, hardness, and temperature would be of importance when playing with a child and having a picnic because individuals are in more direct and sustained contact with the surfaces. These “sensory” and experiential factors might also play a role in the significant divergence between the two surfaces related to rest and relaxation uses.

Aesthetic enjoyment was also significantly higher for natural turfgrass than for artificial turf; however, this finding is not fully supported by evidence from the narrative responses, with few individuals directly citing aesthetics as an important factor differentiating surface types. Previous work demonstrated consumer preferences for natural turfgrasses species with dark green color and wide leaves (Yue et al. 2012, 2017). Such preferences could possibly be factors in the preference for natural turfgrass surfaces in the current study because the artificial surfaces were lighter green in color and had thinner “leaves.” In contrast, the current study did not find any difference between artificial turf and natural turfgrass related to recreational sports, but previous work did find a small but significant difference (Barnes and Watkins 2022a). The in-person experience could have shifted individuals’ perceptions in favor of artificial turf related to the surface consistency. Recreational athletes’ have been able to perceive the variability of natural turfgrass surfaces (Straw et al. 2018); in the current context, the proximity of the two surface types did allow for more contrast during any comparison.

Participants viewed natural turfgrass as more sustainable overall compared with artificial turf. These findings replicate those of Barnes and Watkins (2022b); four out of five sustainability beliefs were significant, with the exception of uses fewer natural resources, with larger effect sizes in the current study. The persistence across online and in-person samples demonstrated a concern centered on the perception of input use of natural turfgrass areas that permeates across stakeholders (e.g., homeowners, public land managers) and the desire for fewer inputs (Barnes et al. 2020a; Larson et al. 2016). Basic maintenance requirements (e.g., mowing, fertilizer, watering) of natural turfgrass are widely known among homeowners; however, it should be noted that best management practices are often not known or followed (Harris et al. 2013; Robbins 2007). Conversely, information regarding the maintenance requirements for artificial turf could be less available, especially to nonmanagers of those types of surfaces. This aspect was reinforced by narrative statements by individuals who specifically only mentioned input uses related to natural turfgrass and none related to artificial. Beyond inputs, natural turfgrass was viewed as being more environmentally friendly and contributing to both human and ecological health. These views are generally supported by previous research, which showed broadly negative impacts of artificial turf related to both vertebrate and invertebrate animals because of multiple chemical substances found in artificial turf (Massey et al. 2020; Menichini et al. 2011). However, specific and direct human health impacts are less well-understood and need to be studied in further detail (Murphy and Warner 2022; Pronk et al. 2018).

Although natural turfgrass greenspaces are often viewed as less sustainable than other forms of urban vegetation (Drillet et al. 2020), this study, among others, showed that the natural option is preferred over a nonliving alternative (Barnes and Watkins 2022a, 2022b). This is consistent with past work in which the replacement of something living with nonliving stoked anxieties about these synthetic forms of nature and how they might interact with other living things (Brooks and Francis 2019). Such anxieties were seen during the current work; participants not only directly stated concerns related to potential human and environmental health but also generally questioned the risks involved with artificial turf.

With multiple intersecting concerns of a variety of stakeholders regarding traditional natural turfgrass as well as artificial turf, a potential alternative solution could involve an approach of “complexifying” the traditional form of natural turfgrass greenspaces to enhance ecological benefits (Francoeur et al. 2021). This complexification can manifest in a variety of forms via the adoption of improved varietal blends and specific low-input turfgrass species and the incorporation of nonturf species to create bee or flowering lawns (Braun et al. 2020; Bretzel et al. 2020; Wisdom et al. 2019). Many of these alternatives that would provide enhanced ecological benefits are already supported by individuals, and some are willing to pay for lower-maintenance and more diverse natural turfgrass lawns (Blanchette et al. 2021; Yue et al. 2012, 2021). This complexification of the urban lawn could also be made part of lawn replacement programs, such as Los Angeles county’s “Cash for Grass” program, to provide an alternative, transitional form of lawn in contrast to opting for artificial turf or hardscape.

Limitations and Future Research

The current study had a few limitations. The case study approach involved residents in two areas in the TCMA; as such, its application beyond those two areas could be minimal. However, the findings do largely replicate those of the national survey conducted by Barnes and Watkins (2022a, 2022b), lending some evidence to generalizability beyond the TCMA. Future research should investigate these aspects in a wider geographic area and among a larger sample size, especially in those regions with higher proportions of artificial turf surfaces and water scarcity issues (e.g., southwestern United States). This is critically important because of the ongoing impacts of climate change that are causing more frequent and severe drought conditions across much of the globe (Cook et al. 2018). Additionally, the types of interactions participants had with each surface type varied by individual. Some individuals simply walked on and briefly touched each surface, and others ran and laid on each surface. Theses variations could lead to differences in perceptions that are difficult to account for. This is especially important because of the variety of uses participants were asked to consider during the current work. In the future, participants should be given more specific instructions about how to interact with each surface type to control for such individual differences in interactions as well as about how to act out various interactions associated with specific uses. Finally, variations in surfaces were not controlled for; more specifically, the quality of each surface type was not part of the selection process for the parks. Future research should include measures of the quality of both artificial turf and natural turfgrass to present the two surfaces under ideal conditions or at least ensure parity between surfaces.

Conclusion

Although artificial turf could be preferred for the use of sports (both organized and recreational), individuals in this study overwhelmingly preferred natural turfgrass for all other uses. Additionally, although individuals were concerned about the use of natural resources for natural turfgrass, they perceived the surface as being more beneficial for both human and ecological health. For decision-makers, this means that a shift to artificial turf for nonsports-related purposes could negatively impact the frequency of use of artificial turf spaces and, potentially, the loss of critical nature-based health and well-being benefits afforded by natural turfgrass greenspaces. Additionally, the loss of ecosystem services would be less justifiable with infrequent use of an artificial turf surface. The current case study suggests that individuals believe artificial turf surfaces do have utility in specific circumstances, mainly as high-frequency-use sports surfaces, for which surface consistency and usability matter the most. However, participants preferred natural turfgrass for all other uses, especially those with high amounts of contact with the surface itself because of its soft texture, lower temperature, and lower perceived health and safety risks.

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  • Hedblom, M, Gunnarsson, B, Iravani, B, Knez, I, Schaefer, M, Thorsson, P & Lundström, JN 2019 Reduction of physiological stress by urban green space in a multisensory virtual experiment Sci Rep. 9 10113 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-46099-7

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ignatieva, M, Eriksson, F, Eriksson, T, Kätterer, T, Tidåker, P, Wissman, J, Ahrné, K, Bengtsson, J & Hedblom, M 2020 Pros and cons of transdisciplinary research: A case study of Swedish lawns and their sustainable alternatives Urban For Urban Green. 56 126799 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2020.126799

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jastifer, JR, McNitt, AS, Mack, CD, Kent, RW & McCullough, KA 2019 Synthetic turf: History, design, maintenance, and athlete safety Sports Health. 11 https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738118793378

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kent, R, Yoder, J, O’Cain, CM, Meade Spratley, E, Arbogast, KB, Sorochan, J, McNitt, A & Serensits, T 2021 Force-limiting and the mechanical response of natural turfgrass used in the National Football League: A step toward the elimination of differential lower limb injury risk on synthetic turf J Biomech. 127 11 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2021.110670

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kyngäs, H 2020 Inductive content analysis Kyngäs, H, Mikkonen, K & Kääriäinen, M The application of content analysis in nursing science research. Springer Cham https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30199-6_2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Larson, KL, Nelson, KC, Samples, SR, Hall, SJ, Bettez, N, Cavender-Bares, J, Groffman, PM, Grove, M, Heffernan, JB, Hobbie, SE, Learned, J, Morse, JL, Neill, C, Ogden, LA, O’Neil-Dunne, J, Pataki, DE, Polsky, C, Roy Chowdhury, R, Steele, M & Trammell, TLE 2016 Ecosystem services in managing residential landscapes: priorities, value dimensions, and cross-regional patterns Urban Ecosystems. 19 1 95 113 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0477-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, Z & Jim, CY 2021 Playing on natural or artificial turf sports fields? Assessing heat stress of children, young athletes, and adults in Hong Kong Sustain Cities Soc. 75 103271 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2021.103271

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Massey, R, Pollard, L, Jacobs, M, Onasch, J & Harari, H 2020 Artificial turf infill: A comparative assessment of chemical contents New Solut. 30 10 26 https://doi.org/10.1177/1048291120906206

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McMurtry, S & Fiedler, G 2019 Comparison of lower limb segment forces during running on artificial turf and natural grass J Rehabil Assist Technol Eng. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055668319835701

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Menichini, E, Abate, V, Attias, L, De Luca, S, di Domenico, A, Fochi, I, Forte, G, Iacovella, N, Iamiceli, AL, Izzo, P, Merli, F & Bocca, B 2011 Artificial-turf playing fields: Contents of metals, PAHs, PCBs, PCDDs and PCDFs, inhalation exposure to PAHs and related preliminary risk assessment Sci Total Environ. 409 4950 4957 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.07.042

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monteiro, JA 2017 Ecosystem services from turfgrass landscapes Urban For Urban Green. 26 151 157 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.04.001

  • Murphy, M & Warner, GR 2022 Health impacts of artificial turf: Toxicity studies, challenges, and future directions Environ Pollut. 310 1 119841 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119841

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pfautsch, S, Wujeska-Klause, A & Walters, J 2022 Outdoor playgrounds and climate change: Importance of surface materials and shade to extend play time and prevent burn injuries Build Environ. 223 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2022.109500

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poulos, CCN, Gallucci, J Jr, Gage, WH, Baker, J, Buitrago, S & Macpherson, AK 2014 Perceptions of professional soccer players on the risk of injury from competition and training on natural grass and 3rd generation artificial turf BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 6 11 https://doi.org/10.1186/2052-1847-6-11

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pronk, MEJ, Woutersen, M & Herremans, JMM 2018 Synthetic turf pitches with rubber granulate infill: Are there health risks for people playing sports on such pitches? J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 30 567 584 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0106-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Robbins, P 2007 Lawn people: How grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are Philadelphia Temple University Press

  • Serensits, TJ, McNitt, AS & Sorochan, JC 2013 Synthetic turf 1029 1074 Stier, JC, Horgan, BP & Bonos, SA Turfgrass: biology, use, and management. Agron. Monogr. 56. ASA, CSSA, SSSA Madison, WI

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Straw, CM, Henry, GM, Shannon, J & Thompson, JJ 2018 Athletes’ perceptions of within-field variability on natural turfgrass sports fields Precis Agric. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11119-018-9585-2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stier, JC, Steinke, K, Ervin, EH, Higginson, FR & McMaugh, PE 2013 Turfgrass benefits and issues 105 145 Stier, JC, Horgan, BP & Bonos, SA Turfgrass: biology, use, and management. agronomy monograph 56. ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Madison, WI

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strutzenberger, G, Edmunds, R, Nokes, LDM, Mitchell, ID, Mellalieu, SD & Irwin, G 2020 Player-surface interactions: Perception in elite soccer and rugby players on artificial and natural turf Sports Biomech. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2020.1720279

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Twomey, DM, Petrass, LA, Fleming, P & Lenehan, K 2019 Abrasion injuries on artificial turf: A systematic review J Sci Med Sport. 22 5 550 556 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2018.11.005

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Twomey, DM, Petrass, LA, Harvey, JT, Otago, L & Le Rossignol, P 2016 Selection and management of sports grounds: Does surface heat matter? J Facil Plan Des Manag. 4 1 33 47 https://doi.org/10.18666/JFPDM-2016-V4-I1-6507

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Villwock, MR, Meyer, EG, Powell, JW, Fouty, AJ & Haut, RC 2009 Football playing surface and shoe design affect rotational traction Am J Sports Med. 37 3 518 525 https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546508328108

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, R, Mattox, CM, Philips, CL & Kowalewski, AR 2022 Carbon sequestration in turfgrass-soil systems Plants. 11 19 https://doi.org/10.3390/plants11192478

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wisdom, MW, Richardson, MD, Karcher, DE, Steinkraus, DC & McDonald, GV 2019 Flowering persistence and pollinator attraction of early-spring bulbs in warm-season lawns HortScience. 54 1853 1859 https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI14259-19

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wu, F, Li, SH & Liu, JM 2007 The effects of greening, none-greening square and lawn on temperature, humidity and human comfort Acta Ecol Sin. 27 7 2964 2971

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Cui, M, Watkins, E & Patton, A 2021 Investigating factors influencing consumer adoption of low-input turfgrasses HortScience. https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI15981-21

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Wang, J, Watkins, E, Bonos, SA, Nelson, KC, Murphy, JA, Meyer, WA & Horgan, BP 2017 Heterogeneous consumer preferneces for turfgrass attibutes in the United States and Canada Can J Agric Econ. 65 347 381 https://doi.org/10.1111/cjag.12128

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Hugie, K & Watkins, E 2012 Are consumers willing to pay more for low-input turfgrasses on residential lawns? Evidence from choice experiments J Agric Appl Econ. 44 549 560

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fig. 1.

    View of the two study sites. (Top) Como Park, St. Paul, MN, with artificial turf in the foreground of the image and natural turfgrass on the slope in the background. (Bottom) Pamela Park, Edina, MN, with natural turfgrass on the left side of the image and artificial turf on the right side.

  • Abraham, J 2019 Heat risks associated with synthetic athletic fields Int J Hyperthermia. 36 1 https://doi.org/10.1080/02656736.2019.160 5096

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  • Barnes, MR & Watkins, E 2022b ‘Greenness’ in the eye of the beholder: Comparing perceptions of sustainability and well-being between artificial and natural turfgrass Cities Environ. 15 1 2 https://doi.org/10.15365/cate.202.150102

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  • Barnes, MR, Nelson, KC, Kowalewski, AR, Patton, AJ & Watkins, E 2020a Public land manager discourses on barriers and opportunities for a transition to low input turfgrass in urban areas Urban For Urban Green. 53 126745 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2020.126745

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  • Barnes, MR, Nelson, KC & Dahmus, ME 2020b What’s in a yardscape? A case study of emergent ecosystem services and disservices within resident yardscape discourses in Minnesota Urban Ecosyst. 23 1167 1179 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-020-01005-2

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  • Blanchette, A, Trammell, TLE, Pataki, DE, Endter-Wada, J & Avolio, ML 2021 Plant biodiversity in residential yards is influenced by people’s preferences for variety but limited by their income Landsc Urban Plan. 214 104149 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2021.104149

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  • Braun, RC, Patton, AJ, Watkins, E, Koch, P, Anderson, NP, Bonos, SA & Brilman, LA 2020 Fine fescues: A review of the species, their improvement, production, establishment, and management Crop Sci. 60 1142 1187 https://doi.org/1002/csc2.20122

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  • Bretzel, F, Gaetani, M, Vannucchi, F, Caudai, C, Grossi, N, Magni, S, Caturegli, L & Volterrani, M 2020 A multifunctional alternative lawn where warm-season grass and cold-season flowers coexist Landsc Ecol Eng. 16 307 317 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11355-020-00423-w

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  • Brooks, A & Francis, RA 2019 Artificial lawn people Nature and Space 2 3 548 564 https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848619843729

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  • Dickson, KH, Straw, CM, Thoms, AW, Carson, TD & Sorochan, JC 2021 Impact of third generation synthetic turf athletic field age on surface hardness and infill depth spatial variability Proc IMechE, Part P: J Sports Engineering and Technology. 236 3 https://doi.org/10.1177/17543371211002947

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  • Fleming, PR, Watts, C & Forrester, S 2020 A new model of third generation artificial turf degradation, maintenance interventions and benefits P I Mech Eng, P-J Spo. 1 15 https://doi.org/10.1177/1754337120961602

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  • Francoeur, XW, Dagenais, D, Paquette, A, Dupras, J & Messier, C 2021 Complexifying the urban lawn improves heat mitigation and arthropod biodiversity Urban For Urban Green. 60 127007 https://doi.org/10.1016/j/ufug.2021.127007

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  • Hedblom, M, Gunnarsson, B, Iravani, B, Knez, I, Schaefer, M, Thorsson, P & Lundström, JN 2019 Reduction of physiological stress by urban green space in a multisensory virtual experiment Sci Rep. 9 10113 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-46099-7

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ignatieva, M, Eriksson, F, Eriksson, T, Kätterer, T, Tidåker, P, Wissman, J, Ahrné, K, Bengtsson, J & Hedblom, M 2020 Pros and cons of transdisciplinary research: A case study of Swedish lawns and their sustainable alternatives Urban For Urban Green. 56 126799 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2020.126799

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jastifer, JR, McNitt, AS, Mack, CD, Kent, RW & McCullough, KA 2019 Synthetic turf: History, design, maintenance, and athlete safety Sports Health. 11 https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738118793378

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kent, R, Yoder, J, O’Cain, CM, Meade Spratley, E, Arbogast, KB, Sorochan, J, McNitt, A & Serensits, T 2021 Force-limiting and the mechanical response of natural turfgrass used in the National Football League: A step toward the elimination of differential lower limb injury risk on synthetic turf J Biomech. 127 11 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2021.110670

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kyngäs, H 2020 Inductive content analysis Kyngäs, H, Mikkonen, K & Kääriäinen, M The application of content analysis in nursing science research. Springer Cham https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-30199-6_2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Larson, KL, Nelson, KC, Samples, SR, Hall, SJ, Bettez, N, Cavender-Bares, J, Groffman, PM, Grove, M, Heffernan, JB, Hobbie, SE, Learned, J, Morse, JL, Neill, C, Ogden, LA, O’Neil-Dunne, J, Pataki, DE, Polsky, C, Roy Chowdhury, R, Steele, M & Trammell, TLE 2016 Ecosystem services in managing residential landscapes: priorities, value dimensions, and cross-regional patterns Urban Ecosystems. 19 1 95 113 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0477-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, Z & Jim, CY 2021 Playing on natural or artificial turf sports fields? Assessing heat stress of children, young athletes, and adults in Hong Kong Sustain Cities Soc. 75 103271 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2021.103271

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Massey, R, Pollard, L, Jacobs, M, Onasch, J & Harari, H 2020 Artificial turf infill: A comparative assessment of chemical contents New Solut. 30 10 26 https://doi.org/10.1177/1048291120906206

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McMurtry, S & Fiedler, G 2019 Comparison of lower limb segment forces during running on artificial turf and natural grass J Rehabil Assist Technol Eng. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055668319835701

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Menichini, E, Abate, V, Attias, L, De Luca, S, di Domenico, A, Fochi, I, Forte, G, Iacovella, N, Iamiceli, AL, Izzo, P, Merli, F & Bocca, B 2011 Artificial-turf playing fields: Contents of metals, PAHs, PCBs, PCDDs and PCDFs, inhalation exposure to PAHs and related preliminary risk assessment Sci Total Environ. 409 4950 4957 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.07.042

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Monteiro, JA 2017 Ecosystem services from turfgrass landscapes Urban For Urban Green. 26 151 157 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.04.001

  • Murphy, M & Warner, GR 2022 Health impacts of artificial turf: Toxicity studies, challenges, and future directions Environ Pollut. 310 1 119841 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119841

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pfautsch, S, Wujeska-Klause, A & Walters, J 2022 Outdoor playgrounds and climate change: Importance of surface materials and shade to extend play time and prevent burn injuries Build Environ. 223 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2022.109500

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poulos, CCN, Gallucci, J Jr, Gage, WH, Baker, J, Buitrago, S & Macpherson, AK 2014 Perceptions of professional soccer players on the risk of injury from competition and training on natural grass and 3rd generation artificial turf BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 6 11 https://doi.org/10.1186/2052-1847-6-11

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pronk, MEJ, Woutersen, M & Herremans, JMM 2018 Synthetic turf pitches with rubber granulate infill: Are there health risks for people playing sports on such pitches? J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 30 567 584 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0106-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Robbins, P 2007 Lawn people: How grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are Philadelphia Temple University Press

  • Serensits, TJ, McNitt, AS & Sorochan, JC 2013 Synthetic turf 1029 1074 Stier, JC, Horgan, BP & Bonos, SA Turfgrass: biology, use, and management. Agron. Monogr. 56. ASA, CSSA, SSSA Madison, WI

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Straw, CM, Henry, GM, Shannon, J & Thompson, JJ 2018 Athletes’ perceptions of within-field variability on natural turfgrass sports fields Precis Agric. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11119-018-9585-2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stier, JC, Steinke, K, Ervin, EH, Higginson, FR & McMaugh, PE 2013 Turfgrass benefits and issues 105 145 Stier, JC, Horgan, BP & Bonos, SA Turfgrass: biology, use, and management. agronomy monograph 56. ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Madison, WI

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strutzenberger, G, Edmunds, R, Nokes, LDM, Mitchell, ID, Mellalieu, SD & Irwin, G 2020 Player-surface interactions: Perception in elite soccer and rugby players on artificial and natural turf Sports Biomech. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2020.1720279

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Twomey, DM, Petrass, LA, Fleming, P & Lenehan, K 2019 Abrasion injuries on artificial turf: A systematic review J Sci Med Sport. 22 5 550 556 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2018.11.005

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Twomey, DM, Petrass, LA, Harvey, JT, Otago, L & Le Rossignol, P 2016 Selection and management of sports grounds: Does surface heat matter? J Facil Plan Des Manag. 4 1 33 47 https://doi.org/10.18666/JFPDM-2016-V4-I1-6507

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Villwock, MR, Meyer, EG, Powell, JW, Fouty, AJ & Haut, RC 2009 Football playing surface and shoe design affect rotational traction Am J Sports Med. 37 3 518 525 https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546508328108

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang, R, Mattox, CM, Philips, CL & Kowalewski, AR 2022 Carbon sequestration in turfgrass-soil systems Plants. 11 19 https://doi.org/10.3390/plants11192478

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wisdom, MW, Richardson, MD, Karcher, DE, Steinkraus, DC & McDonald, GV 2019 Flowering persistence and pollinator attraction of early-spring bulbs in warm-season lawns HortScience. 54 1853 1859 https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI14259-19

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wu, F, Li, SH & Liu, JM 2007 The effects of greening, none-greening square and lawn on temperature, humidity and human comfort Acta Ecol Sin. 27 7 2964 2971

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Cui, M, Watkins, E & Patton, A 2021 Investigating factors influencing consumer adoption of low-input turfgrasses HortScience. https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI15981-21

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Wang, J, Watkins, E, Bonos, SA, Nelson, KC, Murphy, JA, Meyer, WA & Horgan, BP 2017 Heterogeneous consumer preferneces for turfgrass attibutes in the United States and Canada Can J Agric Econ. 65 347 381 https://doi.org/10.1111/cjag.12128

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yue, C, Hugie, K & Watkins, E 2012 Are consumers willing to pay more for low-input turfgrasses on residential lawns? Evidence from choice experiments J Agric Appl Econ. 44 549 560

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Supplementary Materials

Michael R. Barnes Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 305 Alderman Hall, 1970 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA

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Eric Watkins Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, 305 Alderman Hall, 1970 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA

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Contributor Notes

We knowledge funding support from the Washington Turfgrass Seed Commission. We thank the surveyors A. Alcala, L. Underwood, and Z. Zuther, who facilitated data collection for this project, and the participants who gave their time to complete the survey.

M.R.B. is the corresponding author. E-mail: mrbarnes@umn.edu.

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