May 25, 2014 in Features

Seeking harmony in island garden

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: My neighborhood has one small traffic island on a busy street, to calm traffic and prevent accidents. Our town maintains traffic islands as public green space with the help of community volunteer gardeners.

Several homes surrounding the island have been incubating a new batch of children. About eight of them are now finally allowed to play outside their yards and have taken to playing on the island, climbing its small trees, sword-playing, and using it as a meeting place/pirate ship/castle, etc.

One neighbor who has been doing the gardening discovered a lot of the plants had been trampled, tree branches broken – it was a mess – and posted a sign saying it was not a playground. Then a parent posted over the sign a response saying the children have to play somewhere. I detected the implication that we might be too old to understand the needs of their young children.

These are half-million-dollar homes and all of them have yards. Granted, this small island is a public space, but it is not a playground.

Given the damage and the fact that no parents are visibly supervising their children out on the street, and none of these homeowners pitches in to keep the island up (or thanks the invisible few that do), we are confused as to whether to continue doing this civic beautification task. Beyond the maintenance situation, it’s a pedestrian accident waiting to happen.

I’m not comfortable taking a Darwinian approach to settling this matter but I don’t see these parents creating a teachable moment for their children so that harmony with the earth will reign, either.

What am I not seeing here? I love children and I get them. I’m not some crabby old person who is telling children to get off my lawn. I’ve raised two boys, so I understand the work involved in riding herd on active children while not stifling them. – Kid Zone

You’re not a get-off-my-lawn person, but the poster of the original sign sure sounds like one.

It’s unfortunate, too, because that huffy, arm’s-length, get-off-my-lawn-you- unwashed-vermin implication may have cost your neighborhood its best chance to find some kind of cooperative solution to this problem: actually talking to each other, nicely.

As in, door-to-door: “Hey – I was wondering if we gardeners could meet with all parents about the island. Just so we can all enjoy the space. I’ll host.”

Setting that tone will be a lot harder now that a gardener basically declared war – again, in the most craven way possible, without eye-contact or ownership – and one of the parents replied, “OK, let’s go.”

But that doesn’t mean inclusiveness and cooperation are impossible. It just means that you (since you’re the one asking) need to be extra extra careful to set an example of flexibility and calm.

That chiefly means not digging in (uhhh!) on the current preference for foliage over families. If the plantings aren’t kid-hardy, then maybe it’s time for tougher plantings instead of tougher boundaries for the kids.


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