The periodic clashes between Riverside residents and local government over flowers — flowers, for God’s sake! — induces eye-rolling and a familiar refrain of disdain for over-officious village employees who obviously have nothing better to do than tell people what they can and can’t plant in public parkways.
The most recent example — the village’s declaration that a Desplaines Avenue resident needed to remove some very beautiful hibiscus specimens from the parkway or pay to have the village do it for him — came with a public chiding by the offending resident, telling off the village board for its lack of imagination.
OK, here’s the thing:
The entire village of Riverside is famously recognized as a national historic landmark for its landscape design, and the village has taken pains to ensure it maintains that designation by setting rules on what kinds of plantings can be used in public spaces, including parkways, and has outlined a process for getting permission for such plantings.
Simply put, if you want to plant something in the parkway, you need a permit. That may be a pain in the neck, but it’s a long-established, albeit long-flouted, practice. The village doesn’t send its employees on plant scofflaw patrol, but when they get a complaint, they go check it out.
In this case, the village ruled that the hibiscus were in violation of the code and had to be removed. The man who planted them argued eloquently for their inclusion in the landscape. They are not only beautiful, they brought joy to passersby, who would stop and comment on their loveliness. And isn’t that what we’re all here for, a bit of joy in our lives?
The problem with this line of thinking is that it fails to answer the question of where to draw the line. You plant a few annuals around the base of a tree and no one really notices. You plant 4-foot-tall hibiscus plants with flowers the size of your hand, and that gets attention and some pushback. You plant a lilac bush in the parkway and you’re asking for trouble.
The village’s employees are in a no-win position. Faced with a complaint from a resident, they are forced to deal with it using the village’s code, which is the only fair way to do it.
If such parkway plants are desirable, the way to make them commonplace in Riverside is to change the code.
But is that really something you want to do? Does the village’s landmark status have meaning or doesn’t it? If that’s no longer desirable, then residents who feel that way can run for public office and convince voters that losing landmark status might be beneficial and open up new avenues to bring joy through parkway plantings.
However, we have a feeling that freedom in commandeering the parkways for planting is going to have a less-than-desirable outcome. One man’s beauty is another’s eyesore.
Riversiders generally have ample private front and rear yards to satisfy their inner landscape designer, and that’s really where such desires should be played out.