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Sunday, April 27, 2008

GNW Green Report: We Need to Take a Walk...

One of the fantastic things about living in a community with a Home Owners Association, or as ours is technically called, a Community Improvement Association, is that everyone is committed to the common good of the area, at least in the form of the yearly assessments due. Through these proceeds, things such as community pools, playgrounds and tennis courts are made available for common use, and we have a staff that can maintain them, run programs and manage the entire effort.

In some bigger associations, like the one we live in, The Great Northwest Community Improvement Association, we have a large greenbelts that can be used for the common benefit of the association residents. In what is commonly thought of as a water run-off area, we have installed picnic tables and grills. I'm sure some associations have running and biking trails carved through their greenbelts, and these are all little add-ons that can make life that much better in the community.
At our current rate of yearly assessment, we simply don't have the resources to have the maintenance staff take 100 percent responsibility for keeping this space in pristine condition. When I first heard this, I was sort of surprised, I thought to myself, how bad could it be? To me, a big tractor to mow the grass, a few hours worth of weed whacker action, and it could look like a golf course, right? As one of the volunteers who went out on Saturday for the GNW Goes Green event, I found out it just isn't as easy as that, and why.
I should tell you up front that in my 10 years living here, I had never ventured down to the greenbelt, though as the crow flies, it is only about 1,000 feet from my home. I had always thought the small part from the street looked fairly nice, but never really saw myself taking the dog for a walk out there. I should have gone a long time ago.When it is dry - which is most of the time, the area shares many of the same features as Cathedral Rock Nature Park, just outside the neighborhood. Large boulders and trees that make for an interesting and peaceful walk; the winding creek bed created by years of flash flooding makes a navigable path when dry.

Wearing good shoes and gloves, I walked through with other volunteers, and several of us commented on how this same type of environment brought back enjoyable memories as kids, playing in similar spaces for hours on end. Back before cell phones and Nintendo and The Cartoon Network, it was not uncommon for a group of 12 year old boys to explore the outdoors, climb trees or even take their bikes into such an adventurous area to get what we now call exercise. And the thing is, I don't recall us ever leaving any trash behind.
As Central South Texans, we know all about flash flooding and the power of water to move vast amounts of trash and debris miles down what is ordinarily a dry-creek bed. I figured there would be some tree limbs, lots of plastic shopping bags and the occasional piece of junk that had been discarded in some other neighborhood and found its way to our beautiful spaces. Yes, there was that, but it was worse.I was disgusted to find that there was a whole lot of outright littering by residents of our association and from my neighborhood. My neighbors simply tossing their discarded bottles and cans, roofing shingles and old fence boards directly over their back fence into the greenbelt, without an effort to even disguise their behavior by spreading it out as if it was the result of years of floods moving other people's junk.

I'm not trying to sound like someone's grandfather yelling, "Get off my grass, you kids", or to suggest that we go back to the good old days when people had some sort of respect for themselves and for each other. But I do wonder what happened in say the last 10 or 15 years to people and their simple lack of concern for doing the right thing?
To this day, I still remember the Public Service Announcement from the 70's where some Indian chief (sorry, Native American) is paddling his canoe up a stream and it is just totally polluted. Then, he looks over and sees a car full of people driving by as they toss a bag full of garbage out of their window. Pan back to the chief and there is a tear coming out of his eye. That public service announcement had an impact on an entire generation of people and this nation cleaned its act up. And somehow it seems to have been lost.
There was one house in particular, that left a small group of us disgusted, and frankly, pissed-off. In what is a nice neighborhood not even 3 or 4 streets from my house, we came upon an area behind a house that has a pool and a back patio cover. Scattered all over the ground were emptied beer and wine bottles (if MD 20/20 is still considered wine), broken furniture pieces and trash. Oh, and these pillars of the community had thoughtfully picked up the dog crap in their yard, placed it in plastic bags, then tossed it right over the fence. You gotta be shittin' me. Toss your dog crap over the fence if that's what you think is right, but in a plastic bag? Thankfully we were all wearing gloves.There was some general discussion about simply throwing all the refuse right back into the yard and moving on, but I tried to reason that perhaps there was an explanation. I was reaching for anything to give these slobs the benefit of the doubt. Then one volunteer pointed out the roof of the patio in this yard. They had trash and old boards thrown on top of it as well.

In other words, these people simply couldn't care less about the community property or their own property. We simply cleaned up the trash and moved along to the next disaster.
Lest you think the entire greenbelt was a lost cause, I'm here to tell you that with a little TLC, there is the potential for a really wonderful area. I'm a big fan of the A-Team concept that our association has - volunteers who try to get together for projects that can benefit the community. But we are just getting going again. And this greenbelt requires some assistance. If we could get several groups from churches or scouts or other organizations to help with several volunteer sessions taking a section at a time, I think we could clean up what we just couldn't get to during the Green Day event.

Then, when the flash floods bring brush and debris, between maintenance and other smaller volunteer efforts, we could keep the place clean.

Here is just an idea. If like me, you had never taken a walk through the area, I'd like to suggest that you give it a try. Take a single garbage bag with you and if along the course of your walk, you see an occasional beer can or plastic soda bottle, pick it up. I think you'll enjoy the walk and you'll feel better about the place.


Evil Twin's Wife said...

Where I live, there is no home owner's association or dues, but when I did live in a neighborhood with one, the people were awful and no one ever paid their dues (except us). Now, we live in a great area where the city garbage service will take *anything* and the neighbors are older and care about their investment. I wonder if the Trashy McTrashersons are renters?

Dave said...

I hesitate to blame all the trashy behavior on renters, but I think this type of thing would be a good wake-up call for the landlords in the area. Especially if our association will send a bill to the owner of the property for the time the Maintenance staff spends cleaning up their garbage.

The McTrashersons need to get their act together, that's for sure!

Sean said...

We frequently explore areas like these while geocaching (geocaching.com), and one of the mantras of the hobby is "cache in, trash out". We'll bring a bag to clean up the litter that so many people carelessly toss about when out enjoying nature. I can't tell you how many times we find food wrappers or water bottles just discarded on the side of a trail. Often times the bottle piles you see are the result of teenage rendezvous - can't very well bag up the bottles and dump them in your parents garbage can. sigh.

Dave said...

can't very well bag up the bottles and dump them in your parents garbage can.

Great comment Sean. I love the idea of Geocaching, just haven't tried it yet.

In the case of this place, I get the feeling that it ain't kids doing something underneath the parent's nose. The backyard shows signs of serious partying without regard to what Mom and Dad might think; I'm thinking Mom and Dad are part of the problem.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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