Case Study: The power of one: What caring can accomplish
By Linda Countryman (formerly of White Bear Lake, Minnesota)
At the time I took part in a Deep Ecology discussion course, my family had just moved into a quiet White Bear Lake neighborhood. A small park directly across from us basically defined the neighborhood. "Ebba Park" was a very simple and barren place, with aging play equipment, a rundown sign and weed-infested plantings.
At first I simply planted some irises around our curbside mailbox to dress up that tiny edge of the park. But the "Bioregionalism" topic we covered in the study circle really struck a chord as to what I could do, directly, to "become a guardian of the place where [I] live..."
Resolving then and there to invest my time in improving my park, I envisioned bringing back native plants and small wildlife. But I was especially committed to finding a way to honor the person that the park was named for. We'd already learned that it was Ebba Tierney Jansen who looked over this former farm field and recommended that it was a perfect place for her husband and sons to build homes!
As it turns out, several neighbor women joined in the sentiment, adding their own wishes for improving the safety and aesthetic appeal of the park. Through a few conversations, a cookout at the park, neighborhood newsletters, a petition and meetings with the police and city officials, much of what we requested was accomplished. And despite the fact that most of us are introverts, by combining strengths we accomplished these things:
* Acquaintance with neighbors and some camaraderie around the park issue
* Increased sense of community not experienced in many years
* Better idea of how to work with city government
* Increased number of families using the park
* Installation of new, more interesting play equipment
* Raised "curb appeal" of surrounding homes due to park improvements
* Outdoor ice rink installed at our request
* Benches and bushes donated by the Ebba's family
* Safer park space regarding police watch to prevent teens from doing drugs or harassing children.
We're still working for action on a petition to install stop signs to slow traffic passing the park. Meanwhile, we collaborated with the ward police officer and conducted bicycle safety training so the area children would learn to keep themselves out of harm's way.
There are also the tasks of adding native and perennial flowers in the spring, and installing a handicapped-accessible ramp from the curb. But best of all, by helping to connect Ebba's family to these park improvements, we can now look forward to a special tribute to her. Ebba's family and the neighborhood all look forward to that pinnacle event!
When a reporter covered this story last spring, she asked if I'd been active in a community before or grew up in a close community. I had not. What had motivated me was a statement made by biogregionalism activists who stated in our reading the belief that
"...to healthfully survive, we have to become guardians of the places where we live. People sense the loss in not knowing our neighbors and natural surroundings, and are discovering that the best way to take care of ourselves, and to get to know our neighbors, is to protect and restore where we live."
Hopefully my new friends in the community agree that it has been tremendously empowering to see how much a small group of dedicated neighbors could achieve.
Linda Countryman works at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.