GRANOLAPARK: City dashes ashes

Image of an existing scatter garden. Taken from the Scatter Garden proposal, February 22, 2016.


Dear Readers,

You may not dump your expired loved ones in the city park. The city council voted 4-3 February 22 not to create a “scatter garden” where “creamains” could be left along with a stone-mounted brass plaque.

Despite a large turnout of around 40 citizens to show support for the proposal, which you can find here, a slim council majority turned them down, citing potential hidden costs, space and several other issues.

It was a rare event. The city council usually supports grassroots projects.

Apparently the under-construction city dog park, which was similarly touted by advocates as a nearly zero-cost prospect for the city but is currently up to $250,000 and counting, has made councilmembers wary.

There was concern also with perpetual maintenance, committing the city to keeping a memorial park forever. Eventually the park would be full – not with ashes, which would presumably be absorbed into the ground, but with memorial stones.

The stones would have to be big enough not to carry away, but small enough to leave room for more. As they piled up over the decades it would look less like a park and more like a break-wall. And then what?

Activists were shocked but within a few days of the meeting were organizing to twist the arms … er, lobby the four nay votes. So this issue may resurrect.

Three sites were proposed: Upper Portal Park at Eastern Avenue and Piney Branch Road, Stuart Armstrong Park on Philadelphia Avenue at Holly Avenue and Thomas Siegler Park at the corner of Tulip and Cedar Avenues.

Upper Portal Park image from Scatter Garden proposal, February 22, 2016.

StuartPark image from Scatter Garden proposal, February 22, 2016.

Thomas Siegler Park image from Scatter Garden proposal, February 22, 2016.

One of the objections was that all three parks are located in Ward 1, the most affluent ward. That ward’s councilmember Peter Kovar said it looked like an amenity for the elite. There was sparse parking in all three proposed areas. How were people in less affluent wards supposed to use the park, especially if there was a large party of mourners?

Everyone on the dias was being Openminded about the prospect of “cremained” humans co-existing in the same environment as living ones. Even Mayor Stewart, who often takes a parental view of things, stopped just short of saying “EUWWWW!’ to the idea of human ashes flying in the wind from Stuart Armstrong Park next to the elementary school.

The scatter garden presenter bristled at that line of thinking. Children need to learn the cycle of life, she said.

That line is not likely to work on the parents whose children are grossed out when strong breezes blow across the scatter garden toward the school playground. Or when they blow a bit of dust on a neighbor’s bbq party.

Have any of you Dear Readers ever handled human ashes? Your Gilbert has – twice.

They are not like campfire ashes. They are like a mix of fine dust and heavy sand. The dust goes everywhere if there is a wind – including back into the face and up the nose of the poor sap trying to pour grandma into the river. The heavy black-and-white sand goes straight down – and acts like sand. It doesn’t blend in and break down like wood ash. It just sits there.

Won’t the kiddies love making sand castles in the scatter garden!

A friend who scattered a relative’s ashes reported that she was shocked to find bits of bone. This was another scatterer’s discovery as reported in The 9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering, an article by Tré Miller Rodriguez in Modern Loss.

“I expected a small box of soft campfire ash. I encountered a plastic bag with 6 pounds of coarse sand and sharp bone fragments. Not sure if anything prepares you to see someone you love reduced to a bag of cement mix, but the knowledge that cremated remains look nothing like ashes is a starting point.”

What your Gilbert wants to know is how long before people insist on putting their pet’s ashes and plaques there, and how will that be dealt with? And why was nobody objected to the air pollution and carbon footprint associated with cremation? This is Takoma Park, we shouldn’t be discussion cremating our dead, we should  be talking about composting them!

Passport lines

City staff and visitors to the Community Center have been startled by the long lines of people waiting for passport services the last couple of weeks. Most of the people waiting seem to be Hispanic.

Yes, the city has a passport service. It is easier and faster (or it least it used to be) than applying at the DC passport office.

The assumption has been that this is a sign that in reaction to our new president and his anti-immigrant policies people who fear being mistaken for persons lacking legal documentation want a sure-fire legal document in case they are detained.

However, rumor has it that around the time of the increase, Hyattsville, MD shut down it’s own city passport service. So, maybe it is just that Takoma Park is getting the people who would have gone to Hyattsville.

Crime down, assault up 

Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg gave the annual police report February 22.

We confess we had to skip this part of the meeting, but we can tell you the highlights of the report.

Crime is down to “it’s lowest level ever” in 2016. However, there was a “substantial increase” of aggravated assaults, assault involving a weapon or serious injury.

2016 auto thefts and burglaries were fewer than in previous years. Chief Goldberg credited in part residents heeding crime prevention recommendations.

Next meeting – election synchronization public hearing

Citizens have a chance to voice opinions about combining city with general elections at the March 1 meeting. Meetings start at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Center City Council Auditorium, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, MD.

Synchronization would re-schedule city election dates to match the state and national elections. Now, city elections are on alternate years. The next city election is 2017. The next general election is 2018. If synchronization is enacted, which it almost certainly will, there will be a city election for a one year term, then the following city election will be in 2018.

As we wrote in our year-in-review column last Jauary, “Synchronization” makes it sound smooth. Actually it will be more like pounding a square peg into a round hole – as the square peg insists the hole change shape.

There have to be separate ballots. The state cannot accommodate the city’s unusual voting laws: allowing 16-17 year-olds, residents who are not U.S. citizens and felons to vote, Instant Runoff voting, and same-day voter registration.

The city would also have to abandon its one voting station at the city community center. Voting would be at the three general election precinct stations in the city.

As we wrote in March, the reason they want to make the change is to increase votership in city elections. They are especially concerned that low-income, minority and immigrant populations are not voting in proportional numbers.

Your Gilbert’s objections are that the city will lose the small-town aspect of our election system, particularly the nominating process and timelines, and that we are handing control over to the state.

As former mayor Bruce Williams said in his statement opposed to the 2015 ballot question that set this all off, “We aren’t beholden to the state to conform to their process, and I think this has given us the chance to innovate, and to lead the way toward better and more inclusive elections.”

For another point of view – and a good description of all the issues synchronization creates, read councilmember Peter Kovar’s blog post.

We predict nobody will show up to speak at the council hearing.

– Gilbert


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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: City dashes ashes"

  1. The scatter garden idea makes no sense. Its proponents themselves acknowledge that the space will have to be preserved as cemetery space in perpetuity, thus exposing the city to liability and land use issues. Moreover, people don’t need to dispose of cremated remains in cemetery space, being able to discreetly do so pretty much anywhere. If they wish to do, then bucolic George Washington Cemetery is about a mile from town. Of course, it would never occur to Ward 1 types to support area businesses.

  2. The scatter garden proponents falsely claimed on local discussions lists that the gardens they were selecting in the city were neglected or hidden little spots that would otherwise go unused. They also did not at that time share the list of considered gardens when pressed on it. Now that the list of possible scatter sights is published here, it is obvious that None of these 3 gardens listed here fits that misleading description! I am appalled that any of these 3 historic and lovely garden spots were ever under consideration for this .

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