Fall is in the air. By that, I do not mean that the air is crisp and the nights cool. I mean that you can hardly walk a block in the District without being assaulted by an angry swarm of leaf blowers. I find myself crisscrossing the streets to avoid the deafening buzz, noxious fumes and the choking cloud of dust particles they produce.
Let me clarify that I have nothing but admiration for the hardworking men and women who actually wield the leaf blowers. Most make a genuine attempt to be courteous, turning off the motor when a pedestrian approaches. I see them as victims caught up in an escalating turf war, a sort of arms race where landscapers must render not only a client’s yard and walkways, but also the sidewalk and even the streets surrounding the yard, as pristine as a “Pleasantville” movie set. That is, until the next gust of wind comes along. Aside from the cosmic futility of all this leaf-blowing, what on earth is wrong with a few scattered leaf fragments, pine needles or maple keys reminding us that this thing called nature still has these sub-thingies called seasons?
It would be refreshing if the D.C. Council were to take the lead on this issue. Takoma Park has already banned city workers from using leaf blowers. How about we go one step further and make the District a leaf-blower-free zone? Not only would this be a patriotic act, arguably creating a few jobs and reducing our oil addiction, but quality of life would also be vastly improved.
While it is always a struggle to maintain a sense of tranquillity in large urban areas, this doesn’t mean leaders should just throw up their hands in defeat. On a recent visit to New York’s East Village, I was impressed by signs announcing a fine for unnecessary honking. There is real value, both monetary and societal, in being able to walk the sidewalks in relative peace, to enjoy one’s yard and linger at outdoor cafes. Any irritant that encroaches so significantly on the city’s quality of life is worth addressing; it is these little things, cumulatively, that often determine whether people enjoy living downtown or flee to the suburbs.
I can already hear the cries of “socialism” and “fascism” rising up. This is America, where everyone has a right to be as loud, dirty and obnoxious as they wanna be. Banning leaf blowers is a gateway drug to banning Hummers and other affronts to the environment. (Why, next they’ll be taxing plastic bags!) So be it. Council members, it is time to stand up to the leaf-blowing lobby, if there is one. This is something you can do for the citizens of the District. We may not have the right to elect representatives to Congress, but that doesn’t mean we should have to suck up dust and cover our ears every time we step outdoors.