Should sand be banned?
A sandbox in a Seattle parking strip draws neighborhood children but also a threat of a $500-a-day fine. City officials are reconsidering their stance.
A streetside sandbox in Seattle has started a debate.
Should the city allow sandboxes and perhaps other play structures in the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street? Or should those structures continue to be barred?
The issue came to light when Paulo Nunes-Ueno moved to a neighborhood in northwestern Seattle and brought along the 8-by-4-foot wooden sandbox he had built for his 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
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The box was instantly popular with the neighborhood children, but not so popular with the city, which threatened the family with a $500-a-day fine if the structure was not removed from what is known in Seattle as the planting strip. You can see the sandbox here.
"I told them this is a silly rule. We should be encouraging neighbors to get together and children to play outside," Nunes-Ueno told The Seattle Times.
The narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and the street has different names in different regions; we call it the swale in Florida, where it sometimes serves as a water runoff area. Usually, while it appears to be part of your yard and you are expected to mow and maintain it, the city or county truly owns it and can make rules about what you can and cannot do with the space.
While some cities prohibit any plantings in the area, other cities – such as Seattle – have guidelines on how and what to plant in the parking strip. A planter box, which looks a lot like a sandbox, is allowed in Seattle.
Rather than fine the Nunes-Ueno family, the city of Seattle decided to take a closer look at the issue and evaluate whether a sandbox in the parking strip should be allowed.
One of the issues in the Seattle sandbox case is whether children should be encouraged to play so close to the street. On the other hand, creating a children's play space in the front yard is creating a sense of community, the neighbors say.
"The safest place for the sandbox is in the backyard, but then you lose out on all the community-building," City Councilman Mike O'Brien told The Seattle Times. "There's a public-safety benefit when people on a street know each other and look out for each other."
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.