When one of Shakespeare’s characters asked if it was possible to have too much of a good thing, the answer already was obviously yes. Too much power, alcohol and sex were familiar forms of personal ruin.
People have since taken many more good things to harmful excess, such as TV, eating, pain killers and even exercise. In a nation of 323 million and a world of 7.6 billion, there can even be too much freedom — to use public resources, for example. That requires limits on fishing, hunting, mining, timber harvesting and many other activities that are fine when not overdone.
The need to limit the uses of public spaces such as parks and roadways also is well-established. For example, it’s illegal to operate an all-terrain vehicle in either place.
Some Northfield Council members seem oblivious to this need for rules to ensure that uses of public spaces don’t diminish them.
Toward the end of summer, Mayor Erland Chau proposed some policies regarding memorials on the city’s bike path in response to residents’ complaints about added plants, flags, signs and pictures that had become unsightly and a nuisance to city maintenance crews.
Northfield, like Linwood and Somers Point, allows people to donate money for a park bench or tree as a memorial to a loved one, a pet or an occasion. Each is accompanied by a written remembrance, typically a bronze plaque.
The towns and the donators all benefit. Municipalities get trees and benches, and people get a way to remember someone or an occasion. But these public memorials have to be done in a way that treats everyone equitably and still serves the existing purposes of the area’s premier bike path.
Chau suggested time limits for flags and natural wreathes, and bans on glass or ceramic containers, on anything attached to a bench that interferes with its use, on balloons and on any type of lighting.
He’s right. We’ve seen first-hand how some memorials have gotten unsightly, and how bike path memorials in general are trending toward the more elaborate and intrusive.
But Council President Greg Dewees and Councilman Jim Travagline said people should be able to put anything at and on the benches and trees that they want, as long as they think it’s in good taste. They’d rather wait until there’s a problem and then try to deal with it.
People who think parks should provide a natural escape from the bustle of urban street life probably already see a problem. Many of the additions to memorials, from signs to Halloween decorations, aren’t natural and create visual clutter.
The number of donated benches, trees and shrubs should also be limited by Northfield and other bike path towns to what works best for the linear park and recreational path. The number of benches should be based on providing enough to serve walkers and bicyclists who wish to sit a spell, not just as elaborate and limitless mountings for memorial plaques and decorations. Likewise, plantings should be planned so they don’t close off too many of the pleasantly open sightlines and their falling leaves don’t create unsafe slippery surfaces on the path.
In short, municipal officials should manage their part of the bike path to best serve all the people who use it. Memorials may be good things given freely to the towns, but they have the potential to diminish the original public resource.
Mayor Chau’s recommendations seem sensible and a good place to begin thinking about how to ensure the bike path remains a beautiful, functional asset.