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.
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