THIS SIDE UP

What does it take to show pride?

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 9/17/20

I mowed the lawn Sunday. Well, technically I didn't, because lawns are meant to be grass and this was crabgrass. In a perverse way I was pleased with the outcome. What had been burned brown and yellow by this summer of little rain offered some

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THIS SIDE UP

What does it take to show pride?

Posted

I mowed the lawn Sunday. Well, technically I didn’t, because lawns are meant to be grass and this was crabgrass. In a perverse way I was pleased with the outcome. What had been burned brown and yellow by this summer of little rain offered some resemblance to green. Just don’t look closely.

What struck me as the mower kicked up a cloud of dust is that I had cut the crab grass hardly a week earlier. There wasn’t any rain to speak of since then and certainly I hadn’t watered the crab grass. Yet here it was more prolific than ever, with tendrils reaching in all directions.

Crab grass could take over, I thought.

Then I realized the crab grass has taken over and it won’t stop until we get hit with a frost and all that follows.

That’s not to condone what’s become of the Apponaug Circulator, the formerly manicured Green Airport Connector and once welcome matt to the Ocean State or to the sides of our city and state highways. Weeds and crab grass are everywhere. It’s shabby.

Not being fixated on having the perfect lawn, it’s not surprising that I didn’t pay all that much attention to the unkempt appearance of Apponaug until receiving a letter from Carol Lukowski. She spared no adjectives in her description of conditions and how the city had let the place go to seed.

Her observation – “Many of us try to maintain our properties and pay our taxes to support this city. Yet it is obvious that no one cares about even basic aesthetics of the city side gardens” – hit the mark.

I was prepared to publish the letter, but raised the question whether the state, rather than the city, should be held responsible. The state had undertaken the $77 million project to extended Veterans Memorial Drive and build the series of five roundabouts designed to alleviate Apponaug traffic and create a more pedestrian-friendly village. Would her criticism be dismissed for having been misplaced?

Carol suggested I hold the letter. A week later, reporter Jim Hummel published a scathing story in the Providence Journal revealing that the state spent $1.5 million on landscaping the circulator project and that its maintenance and upkeep had been turned over to the city.

I gave the area a closer look. Weeds and crab grass choked out the ornamental grasses and plantings of the Veterans Memorial Drive. The stone wall bearing “Welcome to Apponaug” remained scarred from an accident that occurred two months previously; the dwarf trees in giant blue planters on both sides of Post Road in the village center appeared to be dead from the lack of watering; and growth – not just crab grass – was thriving wherever there were cracks and crevices.

Carol was right. The neglect was obvious.

Hummel’s report provoked an outcry, and predictably, the administration did what it could to tamp down the feedback. Out came the weed whackers, and the weeds, along with all those plantings, were leveled. Rob Cote was on to it immediately. He called to report the crew had left without even picking up the debris left in their path. I checked the following day. By then the debris had been picked up, yet it was also apparent that the selected plantings were leveled. The circulator was not the showcase of street-side landscaping it was just two years ago.

How could $1.5 million be spent on grass, flowers and trees? The number seemed excessive, but Hummel is not one to get the facts wrong. I checked with the DOT. A total of $1.5 million was spent on landscaping that included the plantings, loam, masonry work on the walls and the steel planters on Post Road, as well as the maintenance after the project was completed and before being turned over to the city. Of the total, $760,000 was spent on plants.

I’ve traded emails with Carol since. She’s not alone in deploring the upkeep of our roadways. The exceptions are those neighborhoods where associations have taken on the responsibility of beautification, maintenance and upkeep. Pawtuxet hasn’t lost its charm. West Shore Road in Conimicut is well tended and cared for. These are public roads being cared for by private citizens.

Under the adopt an island program, the Oakland Beach Association took on the care of the entry to the neighborhood from West Shore Road as the Warwick Neck Garden Club did a mile down the road. They stand out as islands of community care.

Carol thinks photographs might stir outrage on the part of citizens and action on the part of the city. Maybe we should solicit submissions and publish a gallery featuring the bad and the ugly. Shaming the state and city into action might work as it did when Hummel did his story. That would work for a time.

Until we take pride in what we have, however, such temporary cleanups will be just that – temporary.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep mowing my crabgrass. It’s better than hard dirt or scraggly weeds. I’m not going as far as to say I’m proud of my crabgrass, but it is green and very hardy. Even I can’t kill it.

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Mark

"It is green and very hardy. Even I can’t kill it."

Made my day!

Saturday, September 26