Green Means Go

Relaxing on Artificial Turf in Silver Spring
Army National Guard Lt. Frank Washburn and Casey McCraith enjoy the artificial oasis of the temporary park, carpeted in polypropylene "grass." (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2005

First-time visitors always reach down to examine the grass.

Wait a minute. It doesn't feel like grass. It feels like "grass."

It doesn't smell like grass. It has no smell.

There must be some mistake here in the heart of suddenly and surprisingly hot and happening downtown Silver Spring. Can it be that county planning geniuses have decided to cover nearly an acre of real estate with . . . AstroTurf?

No. Certainly not.

It is not AstroTurf -- it is SoftLawn.

Not just any SoftLawn. It's "fescue"-grade SoftLawn, made of polypropylene, supplied by Synthetic Turf International of Jupiter, Fla.

It creates a plastic village green, Silver Spring's artificial answer to Boston Common, and it will be with us for about a year at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive, across the intersection from City Place mall.

But here's the weird part: As an oasis in the city, as a place to walk barefoot in the park, it -- um, how to put this? -- well, to be perfectly frank: It works.

This is hard to admit. On close inspection, the surface has the tactile properties of one of those Teflon-safe dishwashing scrubbies. The "blades" of "grass" are short and tightly packed, like the brush cut of a poodle.

It's hard to admit that this fake grass might be kind of okay, because the world has enough fake things in it. Synthetic turf is the epitome of the ersatz and the tacky. It is the all-weather solution of last resort for hopeless front stoops and athletic fields that have lost touch with their roots.

But visit this inorganic field of dreams on a recent afternoon and look around. Barefoot lovers are stretched out kissing. Frisbees and footballs are flying. Mexican takeout is steaming on picnic blankets. Teenagers practice cigarette insouciance in laconic cross-legged circles, while toddlers scamper like liberated crazy people.

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