Playing in the Street

What's wrong with a neighborhood saying 'Not in my backyard'? Somebody's got to draw the line.

Three boys around age 12 in my neighborhood got scooters for Christmas. I know because they've been out every weekend since, often until after dark with the outside lights on,--perfecting their moves on the driveway that slopes down onto Cloverland from one kid's house. You can hear their terse evaluations of each feat and the faint whacks of the scooters hitting the street as they come off the 8-inch jump, hour after hour.

It's noisier than the wheelie-pulling my brother and I were into in Tempe years ago, but a lot quieter than the equally obsessive skateboarding that went on along the driveway of my old house when my stepson and son were growing up. They and their friends eventually wore down the edge of the little brick wall along the drive into a soft, battered curve--skaters don't call it "grinding" for nothing.

Because the driveway on Cloverland is short, the boys with the scooters necessarily get out into the street, and the house is on a corner, so conceivably some moron could come rocketing around the corner at just the wrong minute and hit one of them. (Oh, and they don't wear helmets --quelle horreur!)

Actually, a serious accident is unlikely. They're old enough to keep an eye out, and they're skinny and agile and quick, partly no doubt from all that scootering. Besides, it's hard to get up much speed in the neighborhood. The neighborhood association voted to put in speed bumps a few years back. And it has consistently fought projects that would have breached the buffer that Arcadia Wash, which runs blessedly and unbuildably behind the big Target and Toys R Us and Viscount Suites on Broadway, provides for the streets just to the north. (And yes, developers have tried to build deep in the floodplain. Why? Because it's there.)

And years ago, in the really heroic days of Highland Vista-Cinco Via, the association managed to get the only direct access from Broadway cut off by raising hell until a small street that people were using as a cut-through was closed. Since you can only get in from Rosemont, Craycroft or Fifth--and then you have to deal with those bumps--the 'hood is a lousy commute, and a slow one.

Anyone who does get up a little speed over a short distance, especially around the park and pool at the center of the neighborhood, is likely to get screamed at by someone walking a dog or talking to a neighbor. So the kids are really pretty much OK playing in the street. And they have to play somewhere, using what's there--which in the city is mostly concrete.

Kids who don't get to play outside become obese, diabetic, start developing artery disease in grade school and know nothing about the world that is not virtual. This is happening to children all across the country--their parents are keeping them safe inside while their insides are going to hell.

OK, so is there a point here anywhere?

Yes, actually. It's about the word "Nimby" (an acronym derived from the rallying cry "Not in my backyard"), which starts getting thrown around every time a fight erupts between a neighborhood association and an arm of our wholly-owned local government.

As if there were something wrong with saying, "I don't want the place where I live to get any worse, and I do not trust you, my city councilperson, who for some reason is elected by the whole city even though you're supposed to represent Ward 6, which, from what I can tell, you've never done even for a minute?"

As if the people who think "Nimby" is such a galling taunt don't live someplace gated.

What, exactly, is silly about objecting to the "beep beep beep" of a vehicle backing up at 4 in the morning outside your bedroom window? What is shameful about wanting to live in a place where kids can play outside without finding guns in the bushes?

(This has happened in the similar neighborhood just to the north of us, across Fifth Street. These people are lucky enough to back right up against a topless bar on Speedway.)

Who, exactly, wants a worse neighborhood?

Highland Vista isn't particularly pretty, certainly isn't architecturally distinguished, trendy, or fashionable.

All it's really got is a park, a pool, many of the original residents and a long and ardent tradition of nimby-ism. And if we get called names, so be it. The kids are out on their scooters, tonight and every night, going hard.