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 and trees had been trampled 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, and none of these homeowners pitches in to keep the island up, we are confused as to whether to continue doing this civic beautification task. Beyond the maintenance, 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.
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.
Carolyn says: 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 means not digging in 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.
Yes, I can hear the great sucking-in of breath over kids’ crossing a busy street to play and/or not respecting flowerbeds. The only relevant opinions on safety, though, are of the people who live, drive, plant and reproduce there — and the relevant opinions on landscaping are everyone’s, not just the volunteers’.
So, talk. Warn the gardeners, though, they vie for the last word at their peril. With community property, you all have equal say, but with kids the parents get the last word, so who’s rightest, safest, greenest, volunteeriest or best validated by property values is trumped by the parents’ prerogative. If they want their kids to play on the island, there’s not much you can do about it but complain your way to a rift.
Or, again, show some village leadership. Express your fears of an accident; enlist all parties to work toward mutual, inclusive goals.
A reader’s comment
To my fellow childless women, via Carolyn: I know most us have suffered the annoyances of someone asking (some would say nagging) when we would have children. I’m here to report it can actually get worse.