In Apache Junction, the city is trying to amend its yard maintenance code so that people can no longer turn their front lawns into garbage dumps.
In other parts of the East Valley, forgetting to move your garbage can from the curb for a few days or flying the wrong sort of flag on your house can get you a fine from your friendly neighborhood homeowners association.
While polar opposites, these two situations are indicative of a single fact: We have forgotten how to be neighbors.
Code amendments won’t solve the problem and neither will legislation to limit the powers of HOAs.
There is a solution, however: Casserole diplomacy.
You may not be familiar with the term, but I suspect that some of you may remember it in practice.
Here’s how it worked:
A new family moves into the neighborhood on a Monday.
By Monday evening, a neighbor is ringing the front doorbell, a casserole in hand. More will follow.
On the little street where I grew up, new arrivals need not worry about cooking for three or four days. The neighbors took care of that.
In exchange for the creamof-mushroom-and- chicken concoction, folks got to know each other — names and ages of the children, where the parents worked, what church denomination they favored, where they were from, etc.
As I recall, it was hard to stay a stranger on our street.
And that is the secret to being a neighbor, isn’t it? Because you don’t bond with strangers, don’t find common ground with them, aren’t particularly interested in their opinions, preferences or peculiarities, aren’t likely to made concessions for them.
We have failed as neighbors when somebody leaves a broken-down car in his front yard. We have failed as neighbors when someone seeks to impose his preference for landscaping on the people whose house is an arm’s length away.
On our street, the sound of a lawn mower cranking on a Saturday morning sent a handful of fretful dads out of the house for an immediate inspection of their own lawns.
On our street, a garbage can left on the curb was a cause for concern rather than consternation: "Joe hasn’t moved his can. Is he sick? Could be. I think I’ll move it up the driveway for him.’’
On our street, when sweet old Granny Montgomery woke up one Saturday morning and proceeded to paint her white frame house hot pink, moms did not file injunctions; they filed over to Granny’s house and complimented her on how colorful the new paint job was. Of course, they hated the color. But they loved Granny. You see, on our street property values weren’t the most important values.
On our street, we didn’t need code amendments or HOAs. We had something far better. We had Casserole diplomacy.