A tough row to hoe

Last week’s lead news story, “Planting community,” touched on some issues that folks in Reno and Sparks should pay more attention to.

The loss of the community garden near PLAN headquarters isn’t particularly important in the bigger picture of development of Reno. Property owners have a tendency to want to develop their properties, and few people fault them for doing so. It’s a balance that residents and officials must make: Do we want to build residential buildings on our empty lots to help in the battle against urban sprawl (some would say, the lost battle against urban sprawl), or do we want to preserve some open spaces, parks or community gardens within the city’s limits to help people feel connected to the earth and to help improve the quality of life in the Truckee Meadows.

But then, a drive down almost any urban street in Reno or Sparks will show there are many empty lots in among the homes and businesses. Often, they are surrounded by poorly maintained cyclone fencing or topped with decrepit asphalt. The bottom line is that those spots are ugly; they don’t improve the overall look of the city; they bring down nearby property values, and they’re a waste of opportunity—instead of looking blighted, those plots could bloom with color and people to make our city seem more vibrant and beautiful.

The bigger issue, though, is what the lack of vivacious community gardens says about our “community.” When our city fences in empty lots rather than making them beautiful, it seems to project the idea that our residents prefer the unsightliness. This isn’t just about how tourists perceive our town; it’s about the pride we take in living here.

So, what’s to be done? Well, it’s not up to officials to make some law to prepare the way for gardens (although a city-maintained compost heap wouldn’t hurt any). No, it’s up to people to get to know one another, to feel comfortable enough with the government to go to the assessor’s office to find out who is paying taxes on the property or to ask their friends and neighbors for permission to plant a tomato plant or plot of potatoes on an empty lot.

Schools seem to have good opportunities to get the ball rolling. They tend to enjoy good relationships with their neighbors, and they have potential financial benefits if they were to grow some of their own vegetables. And if students, like those at Rainshadow Community Charter High School, are able to use the skills they learn at school to help improve their own neighborhoods, wouldn’t Reno be a better place to live?