Local Engagement as a Solution: a Reader’s Report

Crew members from A.I.R. in Washington D.C. using modern, no-emissions, much quieter battery-powered lawn equipment. (QCDC photo.)

Crew members from A.I.R. in Washington D.C. using modern, no-emissions, much quieter battery-powered lawn equipment. (QCDC photo.)

Lots of mail has arrived, in response to this recent video by James Fallows, on The Atlantic’s site. Here is an extended and eloquent sample, from a Naval Academy graduate and former naval aviator, now an airline pilot, who lives in a beautiful smallish town in the coastal south.

The main emphasis on this site has concerned the rapidly mounting public health data documenting the dangers of primitive, noisy two-stroke gas engines — and the rapidly arriving alternatives, in the form of clean, much quieter battery-powered models.

This reader stresses an additional theme: the local-action ways to address the problem, during the (inevitable) transition to more modern machinery. As he says near the end of his message:

What I’ve learned from this is leaf blowing machines have become a test for some communities because they test whether we know how to be neighborly to each other.

The reader writes:

Excessive leaf blowing has become a bane of my existence at our historic home in this lovely town.Last Saturday, landscapers used 2 gas-powered leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment across the street from 7:45 am until 12:30 pm – nearly 5 hours of weekend cacophony – from 4 workers who cleaned flower beds with blowers, cut the lawn very low for winter, and then blew and vacuumed too. This was no “mow and blow”. When done, the lawn and flower beds were pristine. For a short while, there wasn’t a leaf or acorn visible in the yard even though the city’s live oaks are shedding. Afterward, the homeowner returned from chores.

There’s more. Another home two lots away had a worker blow at 5:15 pm for about an hour as is routine there on Saturday afternoons by a young man who pulls a gas-powered leaf blower from the trunk of his car.

There’s more. Another home two lots away had a gas-powered leaf blower operated by a landscaper apparently from Jamaica who regularly maintains his yard for about an hour.

And there’s more. On Sunday morning, the leaf blowing commenced, as is routine, at 8:15 am. In every instance cited above, the homeowners were gone or soon departed while landscapers created excessive noise and blew particulate matter into the air where my children play. Peace and quiet is now a rarity at our corner of the neighborhood.

The homeowner across the street owns a landscaping company. About 3 months ago we talked about excessive noise from many leaf blowers working many hours in his yard. The conversation didn’t go well, and he was defensive. I understand, because it’s his profession, he’s a self-confessed perfectionist, and he’s very talented. There were sometimes over a dozen landscapers, half a dozen trucks, and gas-powered leaf blowers literally marching up and down our streets in tandem, and that’s just too much.

But – and this is important – he changed. And when he changed the noise abated significantly. Our family was grateful for the reduction in noise, and we expressed our gratitude.

Then last Saturday the noise at his property returned in full force. And when it did, another neighbor sent my wife a text telling us she had to relocate to a corner of her home because of the noise. At that point, we realized we must act.

I am the son of a New Jersey State Trooper and was raised to work hard to reach my goals, and never give up. I was pointed in the direction of the Naval Academy in large part because of cost, and the summer before my plebe year I worked for a professional landscaper in New Jersey. We didn’t have leaf blowers, but used rakes and brooms. After serving more than 10 years as a Navy pilot, and residing all over the country, my wife and I settled about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean where we restored a 70-year old beach cottage. But we now have children and returned to [our current home] to raise them. We are “reverse migrants”.

We love this city because of its beautiful beaches, stunning neighborhoods, and hospitality. We love our home, and its 300-year old oak tree. I lived in the area as a student naval aviator, and again as a flight instructor. I met my wife here. Our return is a good story, but for damned leaf blowers.

The excessive use of leaf blowers in our neighborhood hurts our quality of life. People have blown particulate matter at our children while they ride their scooters and play “sidewalk chalk” in front of our home. These incidents were accidental I’m sure, but they were also borne out of a lack of knowledge and a lack of consideration. The landscapers failed to “check six” before wielding their 200 miles per hour wind generating machines. The excessive use of leaf blowers often interrupts naps on weekends, and sometimes makes it difficult for me to rest after a week of difficult flying at night. But there’s more.

Another home next door hires a worker to blow on Sunday mornings, and the worker then asks the homeowner behind us to blow there too. He calls it “precision landscaping”, but it’s anything but in practice.

I spoke with both neighbors about the noise and particulate matter and suggested (1) leaf blowers are inappropriate on Sundays because of the noise and other concerns, and (2) commercial leaf blowers are inappropriate on weekends and weeknights because it leads to excessive noise throughout our neighborhood as a norm. They both became defensive, and responded they’re helping the worker pay for food in his mouth, so he can survive.

Last Sunday morning, my next door neighbor called to tell me the worker was about to blow. I thanked her for the notice, but I also disagreed with leaf blowing on Sundays. She said I’m being unreasonable. And ten minutes later the leaf blowing commenced. But there’s more.

After the cacophony last Saturday morning, another gas-powered leaf blower was operated at another home two houses away at 5:15 pm by a young man who regularly shows up Saturday afternoons with old landscaping equipment packed into the trunk of his car. The leaf blowing lasted about an hour. Also, that afternoon, another gas-powered leaf blower was operated two houses away. We’ve had a conversation with that neighbor about loud leaf blowing at inappropriate times because his landscaping crew was cutting trees with powered saws and blowing at 7:30 pm on a weeknight while we were trying to read bedtime stories to our children. He told the workers to continue nonetheless, saying the workers are from Jamaica and they’re earning money to build a home for their family there.

What I’ve learned from this is leaf blowing machines have become a test for some communities because they test whether we know how to be neighborly to each other. Locally, I’ve learned people rarely talk when somebody else does something that bothers them. Perhaps some view my willingness to talk as brash, but I think it’s important we talk to each other and it’s healthy when we talk respectfully and honestly.