When it comes to single family homes on city or suburban lots, the choice of landscape is made by the owners. People who find a large expanse of grass dotted with a few evergreens appealing tend to buy homes where that landscape is the norm. In the older neighborhoods, there is a lot more variety and surely much more tolerance for unusual styles as well as natural settings. Keeping up appearances gives way to enjoying one's own yard as one pleases.
For home landscapes and gardens that work with nature instead of against it, look in the older areas of towns. For the best views, ride a bicycle slowly down these streets during spring and you likely will see residents working in their own yards, not to keep up appearances, but to enjoy the outdoors and create their labor of love with the soil. There is no public garden that can compete with the ingenuity and visual delights created by a resident home gardener with only modest funds to apply. Without outside help to move earth, build walks and walls, buy expensive exotic plants, or install an irrigation system, these gardeners take their cue from nature. The result is a happy collaboration. No leaf blowers necessary.
In the USA there are far too many churches, schools, office buildings and light industrial buildings sited on large lots or even acreages, that still use the grass-and-token-tree landscaping mode. These expanses seem to have no function and give no particular viewing pleasure, other than keeping a conventional appearance -- using land and space itself as an enhancement to status. Cheap land and cheap gasoline have combined with a lack of valuing nature to achieve this look. There are glimmers of change, however.
It's not easy to restore land to its original ecosystem, including the nearly-extinct tallgrass prairie of the Middle West. However, it is being done more frequently. This is where the resources of a public or privately endowed garden or park are useful, to acquire numerous parcels of land and restore a contiguous expanse to natural prairie or other ecosystem. Even preserved or reestablished prairie remnants matter, as symbolic reminders of what nature provided and we have replaced with corn and soybeans, homes and concrete.
An easier method to escape the grass-and-leaf-blower syndrome is to leave some land "in the rough", unmowed, removing only the truly noxious weeds and invasive tree starts. This step alone has many benefits in reducing labor, power tools, and chemical fertilizers for upkeep, and adding cover for birds and other small animals. In time it becomes far more diverse and interesting to view than mowed grass, especially if helped along with seedings of prairie wildflowers.
Preferences on landscapes are shaped by childhood experiences with nature. For large numbers of people today, the link with nature is broken -- and not just for city kids. Today's industrial farms are as sterile. Too many people have no memories of wading in the brook chasing minnows, building a fort in the thicket, eating wild berries, or hearing the song of the meadowlark. What they have never experienced, they do not miss, they do not value.
"Keeping up appearances" is the only rationale many people have for dealing with their home landscapes. They do what is expected and what brings the "proper" degree of status. In upscale neighborhoods, that will be professional landscaping maintained by professional gardners, not for the family to enjoy, but for the neighbors to see.
We can find ways of changing what the community values in landscaping for both commercial and residential properties -- we can create a new norm. And while we're at it, let's give young people more opportunities to experience nature on a daily basis close to home.