Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Should city of Janesville invest in flowers?

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Greg Peck
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The city of Janesville is debating its budget and considering raising the wheel tax to pay for needed street repairs. In a budget study session this month, Councilman Matt Kealy said he wants to beautify the city and create a public-private partnership to plant flowers on medians. Kealy, a local businessman, would find public money to invest by cutting lap swim, The Gazette reported Oct. 11.

That got me to thinking, and I wasn't the only resident doing so. Here's what a caller suggested, in part, in Wednesday's Gazette Sound Off package:

“Why not take the $25,275 spent on lap swimming each year and put that toward streets and let volunteers beautify the medians? A lot of us would volunteer. I'll volunteer plants and time.”

It's easy to call anonymously and make such pledges. Janesville, however, is home to Rotary Botanical Gardens, which relies heavily on volunteers to nurture its extensive and award-winning grounds. So the community already has a built-in army of volunteers with green thumbs who might also help plant and tend flowers and beautify more parts of the city. Admittedly, our community is falling short in spreading greenery.

The October/November issue of Our Wisconsin magazine also features a story about Greendale, where volunteer “gardeners” attend to abundant flower beds. In downtown Greendale, residents plant more than 37,000 flowers in plots, planters and large hanging baskets on light poles each spring, Stacy Yingling reports in the magazine.

Visitors liken it to walking in a park. Imagine what even a modest spread of flowers could do to spruce up downtown Janesville and make it more inviting.

How did Greendale pull this off? Greendale's village center was remodeled years ago, Yingling writes. The renovation included lots of green space and flower beds. The village's small grounds crew found the plantings overwhelming both in time and money to maintain, however. Then a local leader had a chat with a woman who had recently moved into a senior center and missed the chance to tend her garden. That spurred this leader to consider emulating the “Adopt a Highway” program and give the woman and others like her small flower gardens to adopt and tend.

Greendale's Adopt a Plot program grew roots, and today about 60 volunteers sign up annually. They're assigned plots and have signs to designate who is caring for each one. Participants do weeding and deadheading, but the grounds crew handles planting, watering and fertilizing. The volunteers get colorful shirts with “W.O.W.” printed on the front. This stands for “Greendale's Weed-Out Warriors.” The backs say either “We're making Greendale the best bloomin' town in the country!” or “We dig Greendale!”

At an end-of-season picnic, the volunteers said they appreciated how many people stopped and thanked them for their efforts while they worked.

So, Janesville, how about it? How many public dollars should we plow into such a program, or could we rely mostly on volunteers to pull it off?

An update: Janesville Councilman Kealy just told me by phone that his plans for a public-private partnership are coming together. Only $2,500 in tax money has been allocated, diverted from weed spraying in streets and a council budgetary item. Rotary Gardens, K&W Greenery, the Master Gardeners and Bower City Garden Club have signaled interest in helping. New flower boxes would inflate first-year costs, and the city might spend $500 on flowers/plants unless they're donated. City crews would help volunteers with watering.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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