Honk for Wildlife! And Other Neighborhood Tales

For much of the professional field, planning takes place in civic buildings, government halls, and non-profit offices. The range of their consideration can extend throughout a city or even an entire region. But for much of America, how neighborhoods function and how daily life gets lived is negotiated at a smaller scale. One (often amusing) way that this occurs is through the neighborhood listserv, which has posts that range from the silly to the minutely detailed. What is clear from a purview of these stories is that many communities across the country have a wealth of individuals with esoteric expertise who are all too willing to share their opinions and recommendations.


Decades of Study on Animal Behavior

Somewhere in the wilds of Vermont

Photo Credit: Dwight Burdette, Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t spent much time in the wilder parts of the country, then you probably have never hit (or been hit by) a deer, bumped over a squirrel, or squished a frog under the treads of your tires, or seen the evidence thereof. But for others, this is major concern, as noted by KP early one afternoon:

I would like to comment that last Tuesday when I was driving about mid-day and I saw that a poor gray squirrel had been killed early that morning. Might I add that it should have been easy for the person driving that car to stop in a 20-mile per hour zone in order to miss that Squirrel, but they chose to kill it instead.

The implication as to the morality of the driver was clear, but the solution proved to be less so. A handful of emails were traded, but they found more questions than solutions. Is one honk enough to send a squirrel skittering, or will it simply freeze it in its place? What’s the best method to scare off frogs? Can birds be avoided at all? And, does it even matter if another squirrel dies? Luckily, for those with the animals’ best interests in mind, JW was able to provide a comprehensive guide on wildlife avoidance:

Here is a synopsis of my multi decade study:

A single honk works very well for deer – they bound away most of the time. Honk early, honk often.

Honk hard for squirrels for a brief period, once they decide which way to run disassociate from your horn and they will continue out of danger. If you see a car coming the other way honk again violently, but only if you have determined that they will still clear your wheels – you can control their every directional change like remote-controlled toys.

A timely acoustic detonation is nearly impossible for cats – by the time you see them they have already reached maximum velocity, which, of course, is hard to directionally alter.

Birds… I harbor little hope for when spotted – shear randomness here. I tried to keep a cat on the dashboard as an early warning device but that presented its own issues.

Frogs – Critical and brief decision here: if you have room ALWAYS veer towards their stern. If you look closely they simply point in the direction of their travel every time. If you pass in front of them with an open window you may end up with an unintended passenger and likely will find yourself one seatbelt short.

Honk for wildlife… a proven life saver!


One Person’s Trash, is Another Person’s Recycling

Somewhere in the wilds of Vermont

Photo Credit: Trash Project

Other conversations feel a bit more practical and inform the implementation of policy that planners might have had their hand in developing. That said, they can still get to a level of detail that we rarely consider. This is exemplified in a lively debate on how to best manage an increase in cost for local trash pickup that was caused by new legislation. While ML ran the numbers on switching to a coupon system with colorful purple bags as evidence of payment, others, like WM, took issue on the case study examples used in the study, proving the need for appropriate comparison cases:

Am I missing something here? The town manager’s “white paper” on the miraculous effects of Pay-As-You-Throw waste disposal in New Hampshire cities like Matick – MATICK??? – also known as MALLville – purports to present data applicable to our situation. Last time I checked – HELLO! – we already have a pay-as-you-throw system in place and we already offer free, single stream recycling. And I have not read of any proposed town wide curbside pickup (the most convenient) option – the primary system used in most all the town manager’s exemplar cities.

It’s not like we are going from a wild west style, open dumpster, garbage free-or-all with recycling only available for sorted #1 & #2 plastic and separated clear, brown, and green glass on the third Tuesday morning of each month in an obscure, out-of-the-way, dimly-lit warehouse. The town manager would have us believe that Purple Bags (or some wishy-washy hybrid system designed to be inconvenient for those NOT using purple bags) will reduce our solid waste by 40%.

Purple bags and other gimmicks aren’t going to prevent the small percentage of our residents that currently do not recycle as conscientiously as possible from “illegally” putting recyclables into the waste stream.

Sure, waste disposal probably should cost more than $3.00 for a big bag of garbage. And making it more expensive will have an impact – mostly, it will be a slight hardship for those on a fixed-income and low-income households. Enforcement is the ugly answer here. If, for six months, we splayed everyone’s trash out on a table and dug through it searching for recyclable items – like CSIs at a crime scene – we would certainly reduce solid waste because everyone who could afford it would pay some waste hauler to pick up their trash.

So, what am I missing? Why did the town manager present a 16-page proposal, complete with fancy graphs and pie charts, based on data, very little of which applies to the situation in our town? How much of his salaried time was spent compiling this showy document?

All of this is just a distraction from the real debate: How do we educate residents about the importance (and soon-to-be legal requirement) of recycling, composting organic (at least fruit, grain, and vegetable) waste, and reducing solid waste – and how do we, as a town, pay for it? I did not see anything the town manager’s proposal that indicated whether his exemplar New Hampshire cities recycling/solid waste programs were entirely self-supported by the users of these services.



Planning is often messy, but it still sometimes forgets to consider the neighborhood level where personalities can control the direction of seemingly simple conversations. This makes listservs an interesting place to check in to see how people actually respond to how the reality of their environment and the legislative actions of their local government. There, you can often find good people, strong opinions, and a few quick chuckles.


Feature Image Photo Credit: Ray Eye, Wikimedia Commons

Excerpts provided by MCP. Names and places were changed to preserve anonymity. Some edits were made for brevity and for grammatical considerations.

About the Editor: Nora Schwaller is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, where she focuses on disaster recovery. Outside of class, Nora enjoys long bike rides and short walks, delicious food with good people, and casually perusing the design history of contemporary video games and systems. Prior to UNC, Nora worked as an architectural designer.