Saturday, May 21, 2011

"The greater good."

On Thursday, NBC4's Chris Gordon visited Rock Creek Hills Park, and aired an excellent report on that evening's 6:00 o'clock news, letting viewers know that our park has "... two soccer fields, tennis courts, a playground, and now a controversy that has brought neighbors together."

In the piece, Board of Ed spokesman Brian Edwards said: “The greater good must be another middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area and there is just not a lot of vacant land in the Bethesda area.”

[Note to Mr. Brian Edwards: Parks are not "vacant land".]

Now, what most people mean by "greater good" is the, um, greater good. You gotta compare the goods.

So, in our case, you'd take the good our park does as the heart of Rock Creek Hills; the good our park does as the green setting for the Kensington Park retirement community (built on much of the site of the former Kensington Junior High); the good our park does by providing a pair of regulation soccer fields, used county-wide by youth and adult soccer and lacrosse teams, (including the Bethesda Chevy Chase High School girls soccer team); the good our park does by providing facilities for tennis, basketball, and roller hockey; the good our park does as a green buffer to protect water quality from Rock Creek to the Potomac to Chesapeake Bay; the good our park's treed areas do, featuring century-old oak and poplars that provide refuge for wild life and purify our air – anyway, you'd have to take all that good, and weigh it against the "good" of a frantic scheme to cram a 20 acre middle school complex onto 8 acres of soccer park and steep creekside hills requiring prison-like retaining walls on a site with poor road access and no community sidewalks, all costing taxpayers millions of dollars. You'd have to choose which of those would be the "greater good".

But, the Board of Ed didn't do that. They didn't weigh any of the good the park now does. They just didn't. They let us know Tuesday that none of that makes any difference to them, or was considered by them in any way. So, perhaps, what they mean by "greater good" is different than what most people mean by "greater good".

More fundamentally, though, there's another set of goods to be weighed. On the one hand, you'd have to take the "good" of a government agency seizing a cherished community park on four hours notice, with no transparency or community involvement, without having notified any of the park's neighbors, including the hundreds of elderly residents of Kensington Park. Then, you'd balance that against the good of responsive and transparent government, making wise land use decisions following community consultation and involvement. You'd have to choose which one of those would be the "greater good".

We are for the "greater good". Government transparency, community involvement, and communication are for the greater good. But again, what the Board of Ed means by "greater good" may be different than what most people mean by "greater good".

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