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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2010 9 years ago

Our Observation

Staff opinion

In last week’s Observer, we met a group of Winter Park neighbors who transformed an unsightly median into their very own Eden.

A couple weekends ago, they got together on what they now call the Isle of Kahwa (it’s on Kahwa Court) and sipped margaritas and reflected on what their hard work has produced.

The group did what the city wouldn’t do — cleared the dead grass and weeds, replacing them with plants and flowers. Even more neighbors got involved, and they installed a brick pathway and two benches.

It wasn’t easy, but nothing one truly wants ever is. The neighbors said that the median was an eyesore for years. One man got the project rolling — Ed Matrick — when he stepped out of his home on a hot summer day and started pulling weeds and trimming palm fronds. It grew quickly from there.

In a world where a growing number of people don’t even know their neighbors’ names, let alone have a beer with them, it’s refreshing to see a handful of residents working toward a common goal and forging lasting friendships.

Although the Winter Park neighbors didn’t achieve their original goal — getting the city to shell out the money to beautify the median — they took things into their own hands and achieved more than they ever thought they could. Now, they have a neat spot that they take pride in and enjoy, and hopefully will be there for future generations.

What’s most admirable is this group’s mindset.

More communities — and families — should band together to push for what they collectively want. It’s a much better strategy than sitting back and complaining about it.

There are community activists who lobby in Maitland and Winter Park’s city halls on everything from the dog park to Maitland Town Center, but are they heard? If they have backers, even if these folks just sit in the audience, it lends credibility, and they’re more likely to get the elected officials’ attention.

National politics is intimidating and a citizen’s vote can feel like a drop in a million-gallon bucket. But on the county or city level, just a few people can make a difference. The smaller governments are the ones that make decisions that most directly affect families’ lives — what time school is going to start for your middle schooler or if that 300-unit apartment complex is going up on the lot next door.

Some things don’t budge. The city of Winter Park may talk about keeping itself beautiful, but it’s cut a lot of fat in the last few years and can’t afford to do much more than mow medians and trim trees. And that’s OK. Not many cities — or people — can afford these little extras that five years ago didn’t garner a second thought.

What’s important is that people identify their common goal and put a plan in action. Only then will they build a true community.

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