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Columnist
Growth impetus of Naperville land talk
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/22/2008 12:01 AM

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Call it Nurturing Nature vs. Naperville Central.

This who-gets-the-land conversation raging in Naperville is coming across more like a win/lose competition - with gardeners positioned as underdogs - than a sensible shift in land use.

The impetus is growth. You've got people growing vegetables in plots on one portion of the Martin-Mitchell property, teenagers playing sports that are growing in number (both the sports - lacrosse is getting more popular and being added to Illinois High School Association competition - and the number of teens) in another area and growth of the number of plots of a different sort: Naperville Cemetery needs to reclaim land it has previous leased to Naperville Central High School.

So, in essence, it is the growth of those who have died that has caused the grief of those who nurture growing plants and children.

There is no villain in this story, or there shouldn't be. It could be compared to the changes gone through by a family whose elderly members, perhaps, need to move into their children's home, which now creates change for those who already live there.

Usually, that can be done with a minimum of confrontation and some common sense - Grandma's new bedroom ideally needs to be on the first floor, but that displaces someone's favorite room, which may need to be moved upstairs or downstairs or to the garage. That's no fun for the person losing a room with a lot of memories or that has finally been fixed up the way they wanted it, but perhaps the new location will be just as good or better - and, maybe, bigger. It can work out for the best for all.

Though I don't enjoy gardening myself, I love the thought of gardening. I love driving by the garden plots and watching the gardeners. I have always loved that they are there, close to the center of what was once a farming town.

But unfortunately, I think the land availability is so limited there for Naperville Central High School and the various youth sports that use those fields, it is a much less disruptive choice to move some of the gardeners to DuPage River Park or Southwest Community Park than to start busing high school athletes twice a day off-site to practice. I say that with certainty because, according to the Naperville Park District, 235 of the 587 plots rented last summer were rented by people living south of 75th Street. Another 40 were rented by people who don't even live in Naperville.

Pause here and consider those very important numbers. To me, those numbers end the argument.

The result of the moving-some-plots plan is a net gain for everyone - more athletic fields and more garden plots than we have now. The gardeners who are not walkers can more easily drive to where experts promise the soil quality is similar, or certainly will be within a few growing seasons. Most of the land around here was farmland at one time.

This solution makes the most sense. As the parent of children who are and were athletes in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, I can't imagine having my kids bused to their practices. When high school students are participating in their sports seasons, time is of the essence every day - it is difficult enough to squeeze in practice, dinner, homework and sleep. Adding two bus rides to that schedule - not to mention the safety issues involved in that - seems at best a last resort. This isn't absolutely necessary.

In the grandma-moving-in analogy, it's like putting Grandma in the attic, necessitating putting in an expensive elevator or hiring someone to carry her up and down the stairs several times a day. Might make someone else in the family happy about the status quo, but doesn't make any sense.

The growth Naperville has experienced has caused many of us to make changes we don't like - and I'm tired of reading how Naperville kids always get what they want. Kids who have grown up here have had to deal with overcrowding since their parents tried to enroll them in preschool. They've been on waiting lists for storytime, had their sports league boundaries redrawn and fields moved. Many have had to switch schools (and they didn't want to) because of growth as well. They have dealt with it just fine. I'm sure adults can manage as well.

The growing population of Naperville and the attraction of our schools is good for everyone, but you can't take that good without some adjustment to provide for them. And, most importantly, this plan actually increases the number of garden plots and makes it more convenient for some Naperville residents to garden - it could cause many people who resist the idea of driving downtown to take up gardening.

Though I've read the comments about unfairness, I really don't see how moving just some of the plots, not all, and adding more is unfair. As a resident of District 204, I have no problem with the land being "given" to 203 - why are they less deserving than the gardeners who have been using the land for years?

To those who have said Naperville constantly puts its children's priorities over everyone else's, I don't believe this is the problem here. For years, this community has refused to build an indoor recreation facility for our children. They need to at least have enough outdoor fields to play on, without adding to the traffic and causing safety risks to do so. The gardeners aren't being evicted at all, as some have said. They are just being asked to share, and to uproot some of their crops to another field. I know enough about gardening to know both are a big part of what makes a garden great.

But if the gardeners really don't want a thing to change, perhaps they should look in a different direction than busing students - say toward moving the poorly located trapshooting range next door?

• Joni Hirsch Blackman is a Naperville mom who lives on a cul-de-sac. Contact her at jonihb@aol.com