In a guest opinion piece, Oakwood Avenue resident Brook Packard would like to pull the plug on the noise and toxins spewing from leaf blowers, and bring peace and quiet back to Rye neighborhoods.
Packard issues a loud call to action for local realtors “The time has come for realtors to lead the way. For the sake of children, and savvy prospective clients, here’s the reality: Stop promoting the aesthetic of the immaculate lawn.” Asked if she has a lawn, Packard tells MyRye.com “We don’t have a lawn. We have groundcover, rocks, and shrubs in the front yard. Groundcover and a small kitchen garden in the backyard. No maintenance! We get hummingbirds, butterflies, and fireflies in the summer. No noise or stench from lawn mowers or leaf blowers from our home.”
By Oakwood Avenue resident Brook Packard
On a beautiful, sunny November Saturday the leaf blowers began at 8:30 AM. There was exactly seven minutes of quiet out of eight hours of roaring leaf blowers.
Autumn used to be my favorite season. A time to savor family memories of outdoor activities. Now, to experience autumn’s uniqueness I drive hours away from my home. The pleasure of the crisp sound, musty scent, and colorful beauty of fallen leaves. There’s a lesson in this season. The affirmation of life’s cycles, knowing that as leaves compost, new life will come in the spring. Children today miss out on those sweet days. Their memories of autumn will have a background score that sounds like a landing field of B52’s.
The decibels from leaf blowers negatively impacts everyone in the neighborhood. The sound reduces productivity, disturbs napping children, and those who are at home recovering from illness. Constant loud noise causes rising blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline, increasing stress responses. None of us need more stress right now.
Police, firefighters, EMS, healthcare workers, and others who work nights are trying to sleep while leaf blowers roar. All the front-porch clapping and banging of pots can’t compensate for respecting the rest of essential workers.
The noise from leaf blowers is bad enough. The biggest concern when it comes to all leaf blowers is that the dust and toxins they kick up linger in the atmosphere for hours. This cloud has a radius of 5 to 8 homes. Children walking home from school will inhale particulate matter composed of animal feces, molds, fungi, pesticides, and other carcinogenic material blown about earlier in the day.
These drifting particulates – particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) are so small that once inhaled they remain in the body and bloodstream for life. Linked to PM 2.5 are cancer, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and the aggravation of asthma and chronic pulmonary issues.
A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine provides definitive evidence that children exposed to dirty air leads to a permanent reduced ability to breathe.
This is not what anyone would call a safe environment for families. Would you buy a home in an area that offers children a lifetime of health problems?
“I feel as if the realtor pulled a bait-and-switch” said a young mom who moved from midtown Manhattan to Westchester. “I was promised a quiet, safe neighborhood for my family. But that’s not a reality. My baby can’t nap, I can’t have friends over, and we were never told about the health risks. I’m finding all that out the hard way.”
Another parent describes going to three different playgrounds with their children for some play time. They gave up as each playground was surrounded by leaf blowers. Those aren’t playgrounds. They’re lethal battlegrounds.
In the interest of “curb appeal” Westchester realtors encourage the pristine, green lawn. Often the maintenance of these lawns involves chemical fertilizers and weed killers. The residue from these toxins don’t break down. Ever. They seep into our groundwater and streams. When children or pets play on a chemically-treated lawn, that toxic residue carries into the home, remaining on couches, countertops, and in bedding.
The current generation of prospective homeowners from New York City are aware of this. They track articles and discuss the leaf blower situation in Facebook groups, investigating the real scoop on Westchester’s quality of life. And they’re considering buying elsewhere. This demographic does not want their children poisoned by the aesthetic of the lawn. They don’t want to buy a home in a neighborhood where the safety and health of others is the lowest priority. They want kind, considerate neighbors. The kind of community that practices the values that form kind, compassionate adults.
The tidy lawn aesthetic destroys soil quality while killing birds, the bugs they feed on, and beneficial insects. The kind of wildlife that make for happy childhood memories. There is an “insect apocalypse” happening right now. All leaf blowers – gas and electric – contribute to the demise of insects. And when the insects go, we all go.
During the time of corona virus, we are learning to pivot for the greater good. Cultivating different attitudes and skill sets is essential to facing the challenges ahead. We must value community and mutual respect. “I’ve got mine so who cares about you?” was always ugly. The realities revealed in 2020 makes that attitude both ugly and callous. The time has come for realtors to lead the way. For the sake of children, and savvy prospective clients, here’s the reality: Stop promoting the aesthetic of the immaculate lawn. Beauty and value in a home goes way beyond appearances.
The worst victims of the lawn aesthetic are those who operate the leaf blowers. These workers are the most likely to have lung damage, hearing loss, and the accompanying stress that comes from these machines. Moreover, they deserve skills that regenerate neighborhoods instead of destroying them. Skills include consulting on and planting pollinator-friendly yards and kitchen gardens; building trellises for vertical gardens, small greenhouses, and backyard compost bins.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. Our communities, the planet, and our children require right action now. Hear that leaf blower roar? That’s the sound of respect and consideration on vacation. That tidy lawn – endlessly primped and blown – trades fleeting appearances for lasting liabilities.
As for realtors, wouldn’t it be a good thing if you nipped the “bait and switch” reputation in the bud?