Nothing like a little brouhaha over plants to get the juices flowing in Riverside.
Although the latest flap about ridding the village’s parkways of illegal plantings and such like has not been elevated to the vaunted petunia wars of the late 1990s, it does provide some welcome relief from the workaday drudgery of tight budget constraints, skyrocketing state-mandated pension contributions and the never-ending cycle of street and water system repairs.
For those looking in from the outside?”whether its living out of town or simply someone who hasn’t suffered the misfortune of planting a hosta around the old oak tree in the parkway?”this chapter in Riverside’s never-ending quest to be true to the vision of its creator, Frederick Law Olmsted, is almost charming.
But it’s got to be a complete pain for village staff who are charged with enforcing ordinances on the one hand and chided (or even, at times, ridiculed) for doing so on the other.
The issue of controlling what’s growing in the parkway is a longstanding one. The ordinance about parkway encroachments, as the unauthorized plantings are called, dates back to the 1980s. Since that time, it has been enforced, but has targeted what village staff considered to be the most heinous offenders.
But, as all such selective targeting efforts prove, once you start telling Mr. Jones he has to get rid of the darn holly bush he planted in his parkway, then he’s going to insist you visit Mrs. Smith and tell her to remove her hostas. This year’s decision to enforce the ordinance uniformly makes sense if you want to create the impression that everyone’s being treated equally.
Now that the effort has begun, staff again finds itself in a no-win situation. The people in the village’s Second Division have questioned why the village started with them and have wondered whether village officials don’t have better things to spend their time on.
Members of the village board, who appear partial to hostas, wonder why on earth staff would want to get rid of the shade-loving, dirt camouflaging Japanese import. Now even one member of the village’s Landscape Advisory Commission has suggested that removing the hostas, while admittedly an “exotic” species, may do more harm than good to trees.
In the meantime, village staff, which set about to enforce the village’s own ordinance are left standing there wondering what they did to deserve their new reputations as overzealous anti-hosta-ites. The law’s on the books, after all. And with a great proliferation of lawyers in the village, you know full well that once Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve Esq. is told that he has to remove his landscaping pavers from the parkway, he’s going to read the ordinance and then demand that his neighbor’s tulips are removed.
While we’re not sure what the genesis of the 1980s law against parkway encroachments was, it sure doesn’t sound like one that originated with village staff. We also don’t feel staff is the best group to try and navigate the murky waters of Olmsted’s grand planting plan for Riverside. The best group to take up the issue is the Landscape Advisory Commission.
And once village trustees have decided to accept their recommendation, we’d suggest that everyone let staff do their jobs without making them the bad guys for enforcing laws they didn’t make.