Create space: No more leaf blowers

Making Room is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are those of the author only.

The worst part about working from home is being exposed to the almost daily onslaught of gas-powered leaf blowers.

The region is awakening to these harmful machines. The Arlington County Board took an important step on Tuesday, November 16, when it raised funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to replace gas-powered landscaping equipment with other options.

Leaf blowers affect the quality of life. Their piercing noise shakes the concentration or the enjoyment of nature. They spit harmful gas into the air. They can destroy insect habitats. But as a collective, we expect leaf-free surfaces everywhere. The pressure to maintain this appearance means that leaf blowers are ubiquitous.

But a movement against me visited the courthouse farmers market a few weeks ago and saw a table owned by Quiet Clean NOVA, a group asking Virginia lawmakers for the local authority to regulate gas-powered gardening tools.

The person at the booth shared my hatred of leaf blowers. But he was surprised to hear that I live in an apartment building. He assumed that the scourge of the leaf blower only affected people who lived near houses with gardens. But leaf blowers are a plight for almost anyone with a window to the outside. They are a quality of life concern that our executives and property owners should take more seriously.

In my current unit, which is oriented towards a largely greened and greened inner courtyard, employees come almost every day to blow leaves from the sidewalks. In my previous building, which faced a public road and private green space, teams from various landscaping companies hired by different property owners spent an hour or more blowing leaves and other debris from one end to the other.

Quiet Clean NOVA hopes to legislate to change these practices if necessary. They want Arlington to join DC, California, and other jurisdictions to ban the two-stroke engines, which are the noisiest, most polluting lawn maintenance machines. Because of the Dillon Rule, Arlington requires state approval to regulate or ban these devices.

We shouldn’t wait for elected officials to act. We have other ways of removing leaves without harming our ears or lungs. Electric options are quieter and smoke free. A sturdy push brush can be just as effective at removing leaves from sidewalks and other hard surfaces. And in many cases, you can just leave the leaves where they land.

Arlington is making a clear statement by replacing gas-powered landscaping equipment. By investing in battery-powered tools, our government can show that we have other options. Hope that once we hear the difference while walking through our parks, we won’t be going back. The county should also ensure that the owners and caretakers of buildings it occupies, such as the Bozman Building owned by JBG Smith, switch to other methods of removing foliage from sidewalks. Ideally, these changes will encourage more private landscaping companies to make the transition without waiting for a ban.

We need to start talking about the negative effects of leaf blowers and calling for quieter, cleaner options. You can sign the Quiet Clean NOVA petition. You can speak to your elected representatives in Richmond. You can also speak to your building management to see if they are moving from gas to alternatives. One person may not inspire change, but if enough residents ask, we can change the default landscaping setting. If you use lawn equipment, or employ people to do so, you have the power to keep gas-powered leaf blowers from running your neighborhood.

Some nuisances to city life are inevitable. Leaf blowers are a threat that we can stop with minimal penalties. Let’s start now.

Jane Fiegen Green, based in Arlington since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. During the day she is Membership Director for Food and Water Watch and at night she tries to drive the Arlington Way. Opinions here are their own.

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