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Squaring Off Against Green John Wayne

Walking the sidewalks can be a dangerous endeavor.

Ever notice that streetwalkers pound the pavement all over Highland Park? We know why.

Walking for exercise is an activity that is practically mandatory if you are a North Shore Gal. We not only applaud this, we partake in the sport ourselves. But walking on sidewalks in our fair city can be a dangerous endeavor.

For starters, let’s acknowledge the rules of engagement: walking is a social sport. Sure, occasionally you’ll see an itinerate ambulator, moving at a clip sans group. Overwhelmingly, however, we walkers tend to congregate in pairs and clusters, generating conversations and footsteps with equal vigor. And that’s when the sidewalks fail us.

We recognize that our city’s sidewalks can prove to be uneven terrain – but most good walkers can avoid the bumps and cracks along the way. The real problems arise not from the ground, but from the side. 

We’re talking about out of control shrubbery.

The photo accompanying this article was taken at the corner of Central and Linden Avenues, a major crossroad for walkers from dawn to dusk. It is also an integral route to and from Downtown Highland Park and the lake. At first glance, it looks like an idyllic, leafy suburban street. On closer inspection, it’s clear the ratio of overgrowth to cleared space for walking is out of kilter. And this is just one of hundreds of sidewalks impaired by renegade vegetation.

In a town within a country within a hemisphere obsessed with orderly landscaping, this seems to be uncharted, or at least unclipped territory. But why? Every homeowner understands that the city owns the parkways. And homeowners accept the responsibility of maintaining the parkways in front of their homes. When the grass gets mowed, few stop at the sidewalk and leave the parkway to its own devices. You mow the lawn, you mow the parkway.

The same is not so for those errant branches, bushes, shrubs, vines and miscellaneous verdant yet malevolent growths that extend into the airspace above the sidewalks. That’s right. We said malevolent. Because it hogs the sidewalk. It bullies would-be walkers off the designated pathway and onto the street. It’s like an enormous, green John Wayne, swaggering its way over the sidewalk and smirking at us just long enough to make its point. “There ain’t room enough for the both of us here. I reckon you better take those sneakered feet of yours and head out.”  

Out into the street, that is.

So what’re we gals to do? We take to the streets. We hit the roads, walking and talking, counting on the kindness of drivers to steer clear of us. 

There could be another option. What we need is a call to arms (or at least a call to gardening shears) to clear the paths for all of us streetwalkers. If everyone took a look at the sidewalks surrounding their property, and if everyone became vigilant about keeping their greenery in order, there’d surely be more walking on designated walkways.

Well, that’s a lot of hoping. An alternate plan is for walkers to report the addresses of overgrown sidewalk space to our City Forester Joe O’Neill. Forester O’Neill assures us that he has a trusty intern who has been deputized to send off letters to homeowners in violation of the unwritten, unspoken, unobserved, ignored but all important rule of maintaining the stuff growing over the sidewalk.  Joe’s email is joneill@cityhpil.com. His phone number is 847-926-1604.

Know of a particularly egregious violation of renegade vegetation in your neighborhood? Comment here and we’ll forward it to the deputy intern.

Sally Higginson June 25, 2011 at 07:52 PM
I just thought of something. What if we all pitched in and donated money that would go to keeping the sidewalks clear of overgrown foliage? We could call it a Hedge Fund! I made myself laugh. Anyone else?
ak106 June 25, 2011 at 08:09 PM
If its "unwritten and unspoken" then what right do you have to demand it be fixed.
Eric June 26, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Unwritten? Wha about section 24.010 of the municipal code.
Ellen Cohen June 26, 2011 at 01:37 PM
I know someone who has been known to carry a clipper and slowly clip away at the most egregious of branches as he walks down the sidewalk. I say hurray for him. Corners such as the one pictured are particularly scary when walkers and sidewalk bikers are unable to see each other approaching! I love this article.
Stuart Senescu June 26, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Self Helpl Hooray for clipper-man. I will note that the City has been responsive to my occasional request to trim along the north side of Half Day from Edens to Centennial.
Pete Koukos June 26, 2011 at 03:00 PM
I seem to recall that I initiated an ordinance requiring homeowners to keep their shrubbery trimmed so as not to interfere with pedestrian traffic on sidewalks.
Mosaic53 June 26, 2011 at 03:55 PM
This is SO spot on! I am happy you bought this to everyone's attention. I have seen this all over our Braeside neighborhood when we walk our dog. I wasn't sure this was even an enforceable issue. Glad to hear we do have a way to report this to the city.. Thanks, ladies!!!
Sally Higginson June 26, 2011 at 09:36 PM
For the record, we're not "demanding" that residents keep their sidewalks clear of shrubbery. We're asking, begging, pleading, persuading, cajoling, urging, imploring, requesting, and otherwise suggesting that we all do our share.
Betsy Brint June 26, 2011 at 11:28 PM
I am pleased to report that the corner shown in the photo has been trimmed up nicely and is now walker friendly! Thank you kind neighbor.

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