Dealing With a Neighbor

A writer who lives in a medium-sized city in the West writes about this predicament. (This letter is used with the reader’s permission but without her name, and with identifying details removed.)

I have been thinking about the 2019 Atlantic story, “Get Off My Lawn”.

The noise and smell from gas-powered lawn equipment, leaf blowers especially, is something that has upset me for a long time. 

I work from home in a beautiful, tree-lined neighborhood of [my town]. One of my neighbors, who lives four doors down, leaf blows every day. He is a nice person and a good neighbor. This is something I have endured for 16 years.

In my professional life, I have no problem speaking up for what I believe in. But on this issue, I have long felt this was a “first-world” problem and that my community’s leaders had more pressing issues to contend with. This article helped me realize this is a pressing issue as well, causing considerable harm to many. I am now in the process of organizing with several people working at all levels of government to reduce the harmful effects of gas-powered lawn equipment in our state…. 

I’m excited for the opportunities ahead to make change on this issue that has troubled me for so long. But I’m also a bit scared - this is something about which people are passionate, and I expect once I step out on it in a public way I will be attacked by some.

I don’t intend to let this fear of attack deter my efforts, but would appreciate any advice you might have. How do you deal with personal confrontations when working on this issue in your community? How do you respond to people who passionately disagree with you on this topic?

I have made a few attempts to inform neighbors of our community’s existing noise restriction hours, and to talk with my neighbor about his usage but it has not gone well. As I get more vocal and outspoken I worry about how to handle the direct confrontations I’m likely to experience at public meetings and on social media. I would appreciate any advice you might have in this regard. 

Good and serious questions.

Our experience in Washington D.C. has been that polite, friendly presentation of facts that most people aren’t aware of does the job, over time. Most people don’t realize that two-stroke gas-powered engines are the dirtiest form of machinery still in legal use — and that lawn equipment is the main area in which this obsolete technology hangs on. Most people aren’t aware of mounting public-health concern about hearing loss, which is most serious for the crews using the equipment but affects the American population as a whole. And most people aren’t aware of the rapidly expanding options in most effective, more affordable battery-powered equipment.

As we’ve argued in the nation’s capital, mandating the shift is a matter of accelerating the inevitable. Most people agree once they’ve seen the facts.