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Binary Man: Light Vs. Dark In Public Parks

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.

What kind of battle gets people so riled up that they call their neighbors names, tell a police official to do unspeakable things to himself, and make absurd arguments about the relative flabbiness of rich and poor people?

Binary Man has seen all manner of neighborhood disputes, over everything from donut shops to cat odor, but for ratio of emotional investment to smallness of issue, there's little that can beat the imbroglios now raging in two D.C. neighborhoods over whether playing fields should be equipped with lights.

If you thought the question of whether sports ought to be played after the sun sets had been settled back when night baseball was launched in 1935, or at the very latest when lights were installed at Chicago's Wrigley Field in 1988, think again.

For more than a year, the District neighborhoods of Foggy Bottom and Chevy Chase have been struggling over whether it's more important to give kids a chance to play after dark or to protect people who live near city parks from the discomfort and annoyance of lights and noise in the early evening.

This is far from a purely Washington issue. Lights at ballfields manage to divide communities from coast to coast--from nearby in Greenbelt, Md., to Geneseo, N.Y., where a pro-lights neighbor begged his village planning board to see the lights issue as one of "family and community. If you have a baseball field with lights, the family and community grow." A neighbor on the other side of the issue saw it another way: Putting up lights, he said, would cement the United States' position as "the most wasteful nation on earth."

In Glendora, Calif., the battle over ballfield lighting led one enterprising resident to create shatteredpeace.com, a web site devoted to chronicling the horrific impact of evening sports, including sound clips of children playing--you can actually hear them cheering, yelling, even --egads!--squealing--and stories on how lights depress real estate values and how declining birth rates justify a shift in government spending away from youth sports.

Closer to home, the debate in Chevy Chase has featured testimony from coaches, teachers and parents arguing that in a time when many kids lead overly regimented lives, a few lights on a field could give them a chance to break away and get some time to just play. Neighbors respond that there's plenty of time during daylight hours for the kids to do what they want without disturbing those who live near a park.

What many communities that get caught up in this debate have in common is a preponderance of residents who are either beyond child-rearing age or just don't have kids. In Foggy Bottom, for example, the same groups that oppose lights at Francis Field at 25th and N streets NW favor adding a dog park to that facility--the classic sign of a neighborhood where the childless outnumber families with kids.

Binary Man has read much of the voluminous and vituperative email correspondence that the poor Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle have had to comb through, and he is, as is often the case, tempted to order up a pox on all their houses.

But that's not his department. Finding the right choice is, and in this case, it's an easy one: Those who favor the lights, including the principal of Francis-Stevens, the D.C. public school adjacent to the field, readily agree that lights should be turned off early in the evening, that the city should invest in newfangled equipment that targets lighting so it doesn't leak into nearby apartments, and that there ought to be limits on use of the lights by for-profit softball or kickball leagues.

But opponents will not be mollified. They want zero lighting, even though lights have been used at the field for decades. The District actually proposes to remove the existing floodlights and replace them with modern, far less intrusive lighting that would be restricted to fewer hours of use than ever before. Even so, neighbors rail against the Stoddert Soccer program, one of the city's largest youth sports leagues, which wants to use the field in the early evenings. (No one is proposing to use the lights after 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.)

Children and parents say they have to drive from Washington all the way to Gaithersburg to play soccer in the evening. At recent community meetings, opponents have mouthed off to police who supported having more recreation opportunities for children, even telling one officer, "Do you want to take it outside?"

While one side touts lighting as a helpful way to combat youth obesity, the other retorts that that might be an issue "east of the city and east of the Anacostia," but surely isn't in wealthier parts of town. Former Friends of Francis Field president Rebecca Coder, who is also an advisory neighborhood commissioner, wrote in an email to fellow commissioners that "Given that the main feeder schools for Stoddert at this time include Georgetown Day, Maret, Sidwell Friends, Lafayette and Murch--the highest income, most well educated in all of D.C.--this is great PR fluff, but not fact."

Binary Man is sensitive to light and to people who are bothered by light. He has even in his lifetime spent preposterous sums on blackout shades. But no one is talking about all-night lighting. And the sounds of kids playing soccer, baseball or anything else can hardly be called bothersome, let alone traumatic.

The opponents lose all credibility when they produce thick documents pretending to find a rationale for their anti-lights position in the city's legal and regulatory history. This is purely a matter of selfishness, and Binary Man isn't buying it. Bring on the lights--and aim them into the windows of those who lead the protests.

What's your view?


By Marc Fisher |  March 3, 2009; 8:08 AM ET
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Posted by: wiredog | March 3, 2009 8:35 AM

Why not have lighted dog parks too? Come on as a taxpayer with no kids my two herding dogs deserve to visit the dog park at all hours. This whole problem would be a mute issue if we just repealed the child labor laws and required all children whose parents incomes exceed $175k to work 5hrs a day in sweat shops. Let these rich kids learn what working for a lving means starting at age 7. And not for minimum wage but for the prevailing wage in India.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 3, 2009 8:48 AM

I laugh at the hypocrisy and selfishness of those who don't want lighted fields and even REMOVE lighted fields (even if the lights go off before 9 pm), yet in the same breath demand dog parks.

Do these short-sighted morons realize that their self-centered comfort gets impacted, too, if kids (especially the underprivileged) lose opportunities to do wholesome social/athletic activities after hours and instead roam about in the dark? Stupid.

Posted by: Comunista | March 3, 2009 9:38 AM

Sooner or later every idea will have opposition and nothing will ever get done. Gridlock forever.


But it won't cost much.

The end of the Great American Age of Innovation.

Posted by: gary4books | March 3, 2009 9:50 AM

It is a simple fact that well lighted communities are safer. Street punks and common criminals are like cockroaches. They don;t like to be seen. Did you ever notice how cockroaches disappear when you turn on the kitchen lights at night? No you probably never did if you use a dog park to walk your dog. Well let me tell you, I'm all for street lights, ball park lights, neon signs, all night long. I can close my shades. DC ain't the Ginza.

The alternative is to use economic stimulus funds to buy night vision goggles for little leaguers, and make it easier for people in DC and Maryland to get permits to carry concealed handguns. Or you could just move to Virginia, buy a handgun, take a safety course so you can get a carry permit for your Glock, and then use the plastic bag which your WaPo came in to clean up after you walk your your dog in the dark! Come on people, this is a no brainer!

Posted by: CERT8 | March 3, 2009 9:52 AM

Sigh. More NIMBY nuts.

Posted by: bs2004 | March 3, 2009 10:28 AM

I live near the Livingston St. ballfield in Chevy Chase. The place is an unofficial dog park in the mornings until 9 am when a witchy Parks employee comes in and throws the gates open to kick all dogs out. The community of dog park users is meticulous about policing ourselves and each other to pick up after our dogs, with the help of bag-and-bin stations installed by Parks (interesting, for a place that officially doesn't allow dogs).

The community has been in talks with the District both to make the place an official dog park and to light the ball field. I think both ideas are great: let baseball leagues use the field in season, at night if they want to (provided the lights are focused so they don't add light pollution to the night sky), and responsible dog lovers use it the rest of the time.

Posted by: csdiego | March 3, 2009 10:42 AM

What a bunch of pathetic, petty, lifeless NIMBYs these people must be. You live next huge public parks, which is a benefit, but that doesn't mean you're entitled to be the "master of the park." The parks are there for everyone tax-paying citizens enjoyment. Put the lights in and shine them extra-bright. This should be a non-issue. Don't let a few dozen losers ruin it for everyone else.

Posted by: sgrahamuva | March 3, 2009 11:16 AM

Youth playing ball at at night or idle youth making their own "fun". We want lights!

Posted by: Nick20 | March 3, 2009 11:23 AM

Two words. Light pollution. There's a reason it's referred to as pollution.

It affects animals. It affects neighbors. Circadian rhythms are provable science based fact.

If you want your kids to play at night, buy a yard or take them to a gym. Leave nature to mother earth.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | March 3, 2009 11:53 AM

If you don't want lights in the parks, then you can't have lights on the highways or streets, either. Don't call me when you find someone's hand in your pocket or yourself wrapped around a darkened lightpost. If you want no noise and no light, don't live in the city. Have we really become so stupid that this needs to be explained? Let's hope that the declining birth rate cited in that California blog applies to the NIMBY population...

Posted by: spacehog | March 3, 2009 1:54 PM

Haven't we done enough damage to nature with regular pollution, lights only worsen that pollution. Nature will get back at us.

Posted by: zcxnissan | March 3, 2009 2:04 PM

I don't get the big flap. The dog park people aren't interested in having any lights? Dogs or no dogs, if someone wants to make you a victim of crime, they'll get you and it's easier to do that in places that aren't so well-lit.

And besides, who wants to be blindly stepping in dog excrement, in/near a dog park. If you can SEE it you can avoid it, right?

Posted by: DCtoBalto | March 3, 2009 2:11 PM

Lighting on an atheltic field can be a community asset. But it must be managed properly. Scheduled sporting events and open-play time can contribute to improved quality of leisure time and recreational activities for all residents. Additionally, evening lighting can expand youth participation in sporting events by allowing more games to be played and giving working parents more time to support children engaged in late evening sporting activities. The point of contention is often over the duration of field lighting and the noise impact on neighborhoods. Lights for most neighborhoods, in my opinion, should be turned off at 9:30PM. All sporting participants can benefit, and thoughful adults can always reach an agreement on scheduling that will satisfy the public majority. In today's world almost nothing seems to please everyone!

Posted by: tblagburn | March 3, 2009 2:42 PM

I live across the street from the Francis field, my balcony over looks the field, and would argue that no one is more inconvenienced by the construction that paid to fix the field, or has more athletic lighting entering my window then I.

First off there is a big sign on the field entrance stating dogs are NOT allowed on the field.
I have been tackled on the 20 or slide into second on that field, only to find my self covered in dog excrement. And don’t tell my you are picking it up when your dog runs 100 yards away, you DO NOT walk over and pick it up, heck you don’t pick it up if its only 10 ft away Also it is ILLEGAL to let your dogs off the lease yet you all do. .

DC parks and recreation, want to make some money, put an undercover officer on the field and give each dog owner a ticket that lets their dog off the leash, or doses not clean up after their dog allowing some 10 year old girl playing soccer to roll around in their dog’s feces.

So there are two crimes you are commenting, you wealthy over privileged residents of the west end should be ashamed that you care more about your dogs then the ability of a little girl to learn self confidence playing soccer or a little boy to learn team work playing soft ball, or even that most hated of species a George Washington University fraternity brother learning fellowship with his teammates playing soft ball.

Also I guarantee you every resident who enjoys the view of rock creek park and the field, moved in when the lights were already there, so they are worse the NIMBYs, they want to take away an communities resource for what……? Their DOGS? That is selfish and sad.

Posted by: johnindc | March 3, 2009 4:18 PM

Do the opponents even have a valid point anymore with daylight saving time moved up to this coming weekend? The way the clocks are set, for much of the seasons when outdoor sports are played, the sun will not have fully set until about 8:00 clock or later.

We are talking about improving visibility at dusk, not setting the night sky ablaze. Or is the next step to demand the sun set earlier.

If the issue is with children making noise, I can attest their is nothing more obnoxious than the sounds adults make when they are trying to sound intelligent or sophisticated. I'll take shrieking children over bloviating yuppies any day.

Posted by: Wallenstein | March 3, 2009 4:22 PM

I think they should just ask "sheepherder" what to do, and then go with it. I mean, why fight it anymore - whether he's trolling the blogs as va_herder, or posting on the chats as Clifton, VA, he's been educating liberals, vegetarians, non-gun-owners, non-Virginians (including northern Virginians), city folks, and anyone else that cares, how dumb we all are. The fact that he has time to care for his sheep and raise world-class collies all the while he posts to online discussions all day, every day, makes it even more amazing. Mr. Herder, you have it all figured out, and if we were to ever have a regional governer, I would be your first vote.

Posted by: dr_klahn | March 4, 2009 9:53 AM

Bravo, dr_klahn! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted by: frenchyb | March 4, 2009 10:09 AM

JOHNINDC said:

"...no one is more inconvenienced by the construction that paid to fix the field, or has more athletic lighting entering my window than I."

A little self-centered, aren't we? Why don't you just go off to Wyoming by yourself and let a COMMUNITY flourish.

Posted by: bs2004 | March 4, 2009 1:46 PM

First of all, I have never seen kids playing under the lights; it is always the adult softball "beer" leagues playing until well past 10pm. I love how everyone like to make this about the kids when kids do not use the field at night. I should know as I live right next to it. Also the students of Francis school do not play on the field under lights, even though the lights are often left on with no one on the field, which is a waste of money.

Posted by: Jurgy9 | March 10, 2009 11:11 PM

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