Monday, April 13, 2015

I Love the Smell of Burning Rubber in the Morning

It's that time of year when the youth soccer leagues migrate from indoor warehouse fields to the great outdoors. I generally like watching my daughter play soccer. The parents and coaches aren't too crazy and it gives me a chance to relax for a little on a Sunday afternoon. Also, my daughter loves it. One thing that I DON'T look forward to are home games. Sounds crazy huh? No, I am not averse to the idea of a "home field advantage" or anything like that. Instead, I loathe the hour of breathing in the smell of burning rubber for an hour or so.

When we travel with the team to Glen Elyn, Western Springs, LaGrange, Elmwood Park or any of the other suburbs where my daughter plays, we play on grass. It is nice. In Oak Park, we want our children to play on artificial turf and on sunny days, when those fields warm up, they let off a stench that is hard to describe.

At first I found this a little shocking. In the land of rain barrels, honeybee and butterfly gardens, backyard chicken coops, and organic food co-ops , we seem have an obsession with synthetic turf. What I find most bizarre is that this obsession seems to crop up every time we have a park rehabilitation being planned. When fields were replaced at Ridgeland Common, we NEEDED synthetic turf! When Irving School rehabbed their playground, we NEEDED synthetic turf! The cry came out again when they were rehabilitating Taylor Park. We NEED synthetic turf! Luckily they didn't get their way at Taylor.

Now there are plans in the works for converting two more fields, at Julian and Brooks Schools, to synthetic turf. Leading the charge for all of these fields of waving plastic is none other than the youth soccer leagues, AYSO and Chicago Edge. Their reasoning? If we don't get synthetic turf, then the children can't play soccer 24-7, 365 days a year!!! WE NEED IT FOR OUR POOR UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN! The reasoning is effective. Who ever says no to the children? The question I have is this: why can't they just be proponents of new well-maintained playing fields that are made of natural grass. Why must they be synthetic?

With all of this synthetic turf, you would think that Oak Park has such a surplus of green space that it can afford to give it up to put install what amounts to a plastic-covered parking lot. To the contrary, the Park District encompasses a meager 84 acres of land for roughly 52,000 people.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reasoning behind artificial turf. The pros and cons would take me days to compile: You don't have to mow it but it still requires regular maintenance. You don't have to water it but it creates local storm water issues because it creates a huge impervious surface. It is always green and flat, no matter what time of year, but it gives of noxious smells during warm weather. I could go on but I think you get the point.  

I think that the unseemliness of it to me comes down to what this stuff is: it is a mat of polypropylene and plastic strands with tiny rubber granules in it. It is not something I would sit or walk on by choice and it isn't something I would ever put in my own yard.  

The local detractors to synthetic turf in the OP seem to be few and far between. The cry that we are somehow depriving our children of a full childhood if they have to sit out a game or two because of wet field conditions seems to be reigning the day. There may not be a ton of wisdom in the decision to change over our fields to artificial turf though. Published statistics of increased injuries on turf are widespread. Professional athletes have even entered the fray, bringing attention to these issues. It also seems that with the jury still out on whether playing on this material might be harmful to your health in other ways, that folks might want to take a pause on adding more such fields to the community.



Donna said...

Another reason not to have it is injuries and infections from playing on it.

Anonymous said...

I mostly agree. I didn't have a problem with Ridgeland Commons going turf as it is kind of the "premiere" playing field in Oak Park. I'm not sure why they are trying to change every park and every school playground into turf though.

And protecting the fake grass was the reason they used for tearing down our sled hill. Kids deserve sled hills. :(

Hueland said...

Anonymous, I believe the drive for artificial turn in OP by the Park District is tied to revenue for them. If they can program more usable time on the fields, with some degree of certainty, they can have more teams, and leagues for more days of the year vs. grass and the inevitable mud (when wet) and hard dry dirt (when dry) that comes with a well played field.

Chris said...

Hueland, I think you make an excellent point and it does seem to be about money. I would contend that we can do additional, well-built fields with real grass and care for them properly so that it mitigates some of the problems that exist on current fields.there may still be a need to cancel some games but careful design and planning should minimize cancellations.

Hueland said...

For those following the drive to put artificial turf on the playgrounds at Brooks and Julian, the IGA between D-97 and the Park District is being presented to the D-97 Board meeting tonight. Expected action is 5/5 at a special Board meeting.


Jennifer said...

Aw, man! the only good thing about artificial turf is snorting the pellets... And now they won't even let you do that?