Monday, July 14, 2008

Field of Frustration

(Photo from the movie set Field of Dreams)

A few months ago a group of about a dozen teenagers started clearing brush and debris off of a vacant city owned lot in Greenwhich, NY. They managed to fill three dumpsters with overgrown vegetation, some of which included poison ivy, as well as an assortment of trash that had been discarded over the years. They did this on their own too. No big earth day type of movement or anything fancy like that, and what's more is that the costs for the disposal bins came out of their own pockets.

Sounds pretty noble so far doesn't it? OK, they did have an ulterior motive behind their actions. Seems they were bored and wanted a place where they could play Whiffle Ball. (Similar to Baseball, but played with a plastic ball and a broom stick or a skinny plastic bat) Rather than vegetate in front of the TV playing video games or find some type of mischief elsewhere to engage in, they came up with the idea to turn an unused lot into their own field of dreams.

For the next three weeks they worked and cleaned the area then cut baselines and even built a 12' replica of the "Green Monster" (outfield fence) like the one at the Boston Red Sox home field. They hung an American flag on one side and a banner from Taco Bell on the other depicting some type of frozen drink they sell. The reason for the banner is that if a batter hits a home run, then the pitcher who gave it up must buy him one of these treats.

This was some good ole' fashioned, clean fun when it started, but then as the new play area became more popular, the surrounding neighbors started to complain...loudly. They (the boys through their actions) were creating parking issues, they hadn't obtained the proper permits to build this field, there were no public restrooms on site, no handicap access, it was too noisy, and probably the biggest complaint was the old liability card. Who would be responsible in case there was an accident?

Oh, did I mention that the lot has an estimated value of $1.25 million? Obviously the neighbors who are doing the complaining are also whining about how this "eyesore" is going to bring down their property values.

Egad, all this because a handful of kids wanted a place where they could hang out and play. I know there are valid arguments to both sides of the story here, but what have we come to as a society when we place more value on a piece of dirt and weeds than our youth?

What do you think should happen? Should the kids be allowed to continue playing or should the city force them to shut it down?


Bond said...

There is only one side to this story- DUMB neighbors

This abandoned lot...overgrown and useless is more desirable than some kids having healthy fun?

If the town shuts them down, they should not be surprised when these kids lose all interest in their home town.

Gosh this just ticks me off to no end.

Kevin Wecker said...

Awesome post, Jeff!

It's sad to believe people would whine over this. Obviously none of the people complaining are the parents of these kids and their home-made field!

I am biased, as like you, I have children. However I still believe the field should remain for the youth ball-players. Especially when they acted with good intent to remove the weeds and debris, and GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Good for them!

I'm sure there are laws and issues which MUST need to be addressed, yet sometimes it's nice to see a park just a park, eh?

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

We have long valued the piece of dirt rather than our youth. It happened quite some time ago. You and yours appear to be the exception. Just saying. Have a great day and hug your kids. :)

Jay said...

Who actually owns the lot? If the city can take it over and turn it into a park then that would be the best solution. Either that or the neighborhood that it's right next too could take it over and make it a neighborhood park. There are always solutions if people are willing to put out the effort.

Dana said...

Hmmmm ... my entrepreneurial side thinks this is a fabulous and imaginative solution sought out by the kids. My homeowner side thinks this really could become a problem - parking, noise, etc. As others have said, it just seems that there should be a solution that all can come to terms with!

Jeff B said...

Bond- I'm affraid if they shut down the kids it will be more than just the ball field that gets shut. It will send them a message that says, "You tried to do something good, but it doesn't matter."

Like you said, the kids will lose intrest...and then what?

Kevin- I can certainly think of much worse things these kids could be doing. I applaud them for showing some initiative in the first place.

Sandee- With your background in law, I'm sure you've seen the painful result of what happens when our priorities get out of whack. So sad.

Jay- It's my understanding that the city owns it. Apparently there is some type of drainage consideration on it, so developing it may or may not be possible (at leat economically) From what I've read the city is "lloking into possible solutions". Hopefully this doesn't just turn into a political smokescreen until the media loses interest.

There has to be some kind of compromise, but when $1.25 million is involved it tends to tip the scales against the kids.

Jeff B said...

Dana- That is precisely the problem facing so many different projects around our country. Most of us agree that we need places like this for kids, or shelters for the homeless, or affordable low income housing, or....

It always sounds like a good idea when its in somebodies elses neighbohood, but when it potentially will be next door, the people start to get a different opinion.

I have a beautiful "green space" behind my back fence. It's peaceful quiet and well managed. I wonder how I would feel if the nieghbor kids decided to put up a skateboard ramp in the middle of it.

Ultimately I'd want them to have the spot to play, but I must shamefully confess, I'd still want my peacefull space left in tact at the same time.

the teach said...

Oh my goodness, Jeff, the kids should be allowed to play. It always happens someone's got to complain because a car is parked 2 inches from their driveway or something... I agree with Vinny! :)

Dianne said...

we had a group of teens clean out a very small plot of land behind us. they brought in one of those portable basketball hoops and started playing.

it's a bit of an issue because my son works nights and they're really noisy during the day. I went over and asked them if they could turn their music down a bit, another neighbor asked them to not play past 8 - it's dark anyway. we asked them to ride bikes instead of cars and so on

the point is we spoke to them, one of their parents stepped up and offered to have his retired Dad check up on them and he and I and a few others left our phone numbers in case a nearby adult was needed immediately.

granted the lot sounds much smaller than this but talking instead of knee jerk reacting worked for us all

there is so little common sense one-on-one these days and far too many jerks with knees these days

If those kids are shut down it will be (as you said) a terrible message to them

Akelamalu said...

Those kids should be applauded for doing something to help themselves instead of the usual "we don't have anywhere"! I can understand the neighbours concerns but the city should invest some money and make the lot right for the kids.

Jeni said...

A great post, Jeff -really and truly, it is that. People and their notions though -sometimes, the more some (in this case-the kids) try to find ways to get some exercise, entertainment, enlightenment about work too, others will come up with some really absurd ideas why the others should be shut down at the pass or cut off at the knees!
One would think that surely some compromise can be worked out for the kids to have the space -and feel really proud for having acquired it and cleared it, etc., and for having some other entrepreneurial ideas there as well-and the stodgy adults can be happy with all their problems with the lot being recognized and taken care of too. And, if this lot is worth $1.25 million (I think that was the figure wasn't it) then why was it sitting there, vacant, untended then too? Now that the kids did the legwork to get it cleared, I suppose the owner (city or private) will step forward and say "Hey, that's mine." and just take it away. Absurd, just absurd. The kids had a need, recognized a solution and made it come about now help them to continue forward!

Jeff B said...

Teach- I wonder if there were transits living there and the kid's clean up efforts caused them to find another place to hang out, how differently the neighbor would have felt. That wasn't the case, but it does put a different spin on it.

Like you said, people get so snipity about thier personal space.

Dianne- It is indeed sad that the from what I've read about this so far, that the neighbors/homeowners aren't interested in trying that simple first step of having an open and honest discussion with the teens. Instead they have hired an attorney to be thier mouthpiece.

The problem with any knee jerk reaction is that pride can get in the way once a quick decision has been made. Once people make a statement about what they think is the "only way" it can be very difficult for them to be humble enough to look at other options.

I applaud you for the way you handled the situation in your own neighborhood!

Akelamalu- So many kids today would rather complain about not having anything to do, but these kids got off their backside and showed some real effort. I do hope the city will work with them on a fair solution.

Jeff B said...

Jeni- I had the same question. If the lot is supposed to be worth millions, then why was it just sitting there? It seems there is some sort of drainage issue with it and perhaps that figure represents what the adjacent lost are worth.

So, if it isn't suitable for building then why not make it a park/ballfield?

Jules~ said...

It is all so sad. Here is a lot that the adults paid no attention to...and kids that didn't get attention either. I think the adults should have been amazed that the kids desired more than quick video fingers and lumpy rear ends. They should be shamed that they didn't think of it first and inspired that they are in proximity to a young group of people that saw an opportunity for change and did something about it.

Jeff B said...

Jules- This are the same adults that I'm sure would be all to quick to complain about the kids getting into trouble because they had nothing better to do with their time.

buffalodickdy said...

No right thinking American would EVER keep kids from playing baseball...sonsabitches... muttermuttermutter...

Mike Golch said...

I can relate we use to play catch in a vacant lot where we cleaned it up as well. than after all that haerd work we did jut to have a safe place to play andnot in the street. Some bozo goes and calls the cops that we were trespassing on thier property. Go Figure! This was done long before earth day was a dream in someone's head!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Hammer said...

We used to play on private property all the time. We just made sure to leave it better than we found it.

Problem is when there are nosy petty people about they will find a way to ruin a good thing.

Jeff B said...

Buffalo- Makes you wonder who wronged these people while they were growing up. Bunch of grumpy old farts.

Mike- Your story and the one I posted have one common theme that stuck out to me. If these people had a problem with what was going on, why did they wait until all the hard work was done before blowing the whistle? I seriously doubt is was just on oversight if you know what I mean.

Hammer- That's a value my father instilled in me as well. If you borrow something, return it in better condition. A great rule to live by.

Dianne said...

Hey Jeff - your story made Eyewitness News! Of course they didn't say much. A couple of guys in suits explaining what a whiffle ball game is and talking about "looking into it". But they did show the lot, wow the kids did a great job. And the showed the back of one huge house that faces the lot - betcha no one is home during the day or - the house is so freakin' big they can't hear the kids anyway. I hope they work this out. Eyewitness News said it was going to follow up.

Jeff B said...

Dianne- Thanks for the update. Can you send me the name of the news channel or a link to it? I'd love to se some live footage of the story. Maybe they'll have it available on line. So far what I've seen/heard about it has been radio or newspaper articles.

Mimi Lenox said...

The city should provide another place for them to play.
Great post!

Travis said...

We have laws and building codes for a reason, as I'm sure you know being in the construction business.

Who owns the lot? Was it posted? Who else was going to clean it up? What was its purpose, other than to be an eyesore dumping ground for garbage to the detriment of local property values?

That said, I commend what the kids did and I don't necessarily think they should be run off. The city council, local businesses, and home owners may want to consider recognizing what the kids tried to do, and help them finish off the park.

But don't just legal the thing away. I agree with all the other comments...that would be a terrible message to the kids.

Gene Bach said...

Let'em play ball!

Desert Songbird said...


Ron said...

I so admire these kids for doing all this on their own!


My's not like they're trying to make this a professional field or anything. Why should they have to concern themselves with bathrooms and permits?

It's as you said...a place for them to play and have fun.

I can understand some of the concerns with the neighbors (like noise), but all they would have to do is put a curfew on how late they can play.

I'm sorry...but the kids hard efforts should be considered in this and the city should work as a whole to figure something out.

Ok...that's all I wanted to say!

Jeff B said...

Mimi- The question is, will the city do that or wait for the media to calm down and the kids to go back to school then hope the whole thing blows over?

Travis- Being in the construction biz gives me very mixed opnions about the whole practice of building codes and enforcement. While the overall purpose is to create safer and consistant buildings, it also gets so watered down by the time it makes it to the field that I sometimes wonder about the effectiveness of it all.

Granted without some kind of structure in place, things could quite possibly be in complete chaos. On the flip side, I've seen inspectors in the same jurisdiction red flag some items while others will let is go through.

This whole thing really is a double edged sword. The kids simply want a place to hang out and play, while the property owners may have purchased their dwellings with the assumption that this lot was to remain vacant.

It's only speculation though, because so far the media has slanted everything in favor of the kids. Understandably so, that's where public sympathy seems to be the strongest.

Jeff B said...

Gene- Agreed. Come September they're going to be back in school and the neighbors can have thier overgrown lot back.

Songbird- Maybe the neighbors should take up a collection and buy the lot, then they could declare it private property and run all the kids out of there. The kids in turn would become so bored with nothing to do again that they could start vandalizing cars or start drinking or doing drugs. Wow, this would be a great solution don't you think? Like you said, "UnFRACKINGbelievable"

Ron- Apparently the kids have already posted signs with a few do's and don'ts. They're taking some steps towards a solution, let's hope the neighbors are willing to do the same.

Sandi McBride said...

I think those kids are great...perhaps some would rather they would be out knocking over banks or convenience stores? There's no pleasing some people..actually I think they improved the looks considerably...they should be thankful! Must be bankers

Rhea said...

That's a real shame. I understand about red tape, but seriously, with such good intentions and such hard work...let them PLAY!!

Matt-Man said...

The kids should be lauded for their initiative. I agree with Jay. Incorporate the field into a park. PArks add value to a community. Cheers Jeff!

nitebyrd said...

FFS! Here are kids that are doing something worthwhile and staying out of trouble. They aren't sitting at home becoming one with a video game. They're outside getting exercise. WTF is wrong with these freakin' people and the damn town? Since when did you have to become PC to play outside during summer vacation?

Gods, this story just burns my ass.

jennifer said...

I say let them play!

But this story doesn't surprise me. Let's say the big green fence falls and crushes Little Billy. Then you have THAT chick on a Cable news Show saying "Where were the parents on this? WHY didn't the neighbors take action? Aren't there LAWS protecting these children? THIS is an OUTRAGE." We are FAR too litigous of a society and there are fewer boundaries of common decency and common sense.

But for Pete's Sake, just let those boys play.


Jeff B said...

Sandi- It's a heck of a way to inspire kids to show effort.

Rhea- Some people just can't let the simple things go.

Matt- With a little luck they will make it a park and raise the property taxes to the neighbors who complained in the first place.

Nitebyrd- this is one of those stories that begs the question, "What's next?"

Jennifer- You are so right, let something bad happen and then the tables would be turned in an instant. I think the only ones who are going to gain through this whole thing are the lawyers.

WomensDaily said...

I can't believe the neighborhood is being so stupid. They would give less problems if they were doing something bad there.

Jeff B said...

Womensdaily- The whole thing is being blown way out of proportion I think. To bad too.

Michelle said...

Allow the kids to play. Geez! These people need to get a life! What ever happened to the good old days when kids were encouraged to go out and play ball.. and have some fun and get out of the house.