Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Alexandria City Bureaucracy Didn’t Steal Christmas.

Yes, Arlandria, there is a Christmas Tree.

Sometimes it seems the only folks with skills finely-honed enough to tap into City administered programs reside in Old Town. But that’s okay, we weren’t looking for a program or a handout… just some guidance.

All we really needed was for the lights to light.

The existing landscaping at Le Bosquet at Sunnyside Park is comprised of rocks, shrubs and two park benches. I’d always thought a Christmas tree here might lift the spirits of neighboring residents in this predominantly poor community. Census reports and nap-worthy waits behind school busses in the morning both support my assertion that the largest density of Alexandria’s children live in Arlandria – so how hard could setting up a little tree lighting for the local kids be?

I’d been inspired by past efforts of neighbors like Jack and Lois Stevens, who maintained this park for years under the adopt-a-park program. And by my friend Tom Fitzgerald, who’d spent the better part of a year chasing down the right people to get unattended neighborhood street lights turned back on.
So, my tale began this past summer when a neighbor donated a holly bush that looked like a tree (but couldn't be called a tree because of tree regulations) . We planted it near a lamppost with the help of Santos Flores, a local landscaper who donated his time, equipment, staff and sons Alex, 15 and Darwin, 2. When, sadly, it succumbed to the heat, Santos and I waited until September and headed to the garden center to give it another shot. The result was a scrappy little bush with more ‘sparse’ than actual leaves – but we love it, and it’s been a big hit with the neighborhood dogs.

Community Lodgings, a local non-profit, offered to have the neighborhood kids who attend their after school program make decorations, and folks from the city were standing by to attend the big lighting ceremony. But in the spirit of grinchiness, we discovered there was no way to light the tree without a host of further permissions.

To everyone’s credit, there were valiant attempts. Our friends in Del Ray, who invented DIY, shared how they coordinate with local business owners to do their lightings, but ours is a residential neighborhood. Arlandrian poster Kevin Beekman tested solar lights, which he had strung up at another sadly overlooked park on Reed Avenue, but admitted they really didn’t put off much light. Living across the street from Le Bosquet Park made running an extension cord ill-advised.

There were e-mail exchanges about a lighting fund we were too late for, and a junction box costing an exorbitant amount I may never know (referred to only as “$$$”). And a former council member (who has my vote if he would PLEASE run again) tried unsuccessfully to contact Dominion Power. We even hoped the adopt-a-park funds the Stevens had raised could be used to install an outlet on the lamppost, but the funds too were long forgotten.

Adding to my growing despair, Community Lodgings called to say the kids had made decorations they wanted to hang on the tree, “when would be a good time to have the tree lighting?”

I admitted it wasn’t looking good.

With Christmas a week away, our hopes were whittled down to the flavor of the month: eel-powered Christmas lights.

In the end, I’m sorry to say I gave up.

Which is why, three days before Christmas, I was surprised to see the little tree… bush… at Le Bosquet Park, festively adorned in ornaments - not a sparse spot to be found.

And the decorations were really nice. Pine cones and glittery popsicle-stick stars stars - not the usual construction paper decorations you love because it was your kid who made them. These were different… special.

So, in the real end, I realized it wasn’t my tree to give up on. It had become what it was meant to be – a community tree. Alex, who was there for the planting, led the decorating project at Community Lodgings. Afterwards, the kids went outside to hang them.

No fanfare, just Christmas spirit.

Turns out we didn’t need lights after all.

(But maybe next year.)
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