View of the San Diego harbor and skyline. Courtesy Port of San Diego

By Colleen O’Connor

Chaos, coups and violence kick up all kinds of responses. Some stupid. Some wise. And these days, the news spews lots more of the former and very little of the latter.

Perhaps no wisdom is better than Abraham Lincoln’s message to Congress during the early days of America’s Civil War:

“In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

But, I may have found some more pertinent, local wisdom from 10-year old Olivia Hackworth—a student at Alice Birney Elementary School. The simplicity of her message is moving.

She didn’t reference the USC study that suggests teenagers surrounded by more greenery show less aggressive behavior, or the “nature deficit disorder” coined by San Diego author Richard Luv, or even the Buddhist definition of “wise speech”—all of which argue for less greed and more green.

Nor did she cite Reese Witherspoon’s short, beautiful video, “Nature is Home” to make her point about the sanctity of her neighborhood Park.

No, Olivia wrote a letter to the editor at the San Diego Uptown News and simply asked for “No More Trash” in Ward Canyon Park.

Her youthful wisdom (written without the help of teachers, parents, or grandmother) is forceful.

Here are some excerpts (reprinted with her permission).

Speaking for herself:

“If you were a kid, would you like to play in a filthy park? Imagine you are 8 or 9 years old and you’re begging your parents to go to the park. They finally say yes, and when you get there you don’t want to be there!”

“Another reason is that a dirty park attracts animals. It may attract wild, aggressive animals like raccoons or opossums, not cute kittens or puppies.”

Speaking for her city:

“One reason I think we need more trash cans and ones with lids at Ward Canyon Park is because the trash makes the park dirty. People won’t come, and when tourists come they will think we’re a sloppy city. We don’t want a reputation as a messy city, do we?”

Speaking for the species:

“In addition, some animals like this [park] as a good breeding ground. This can result in overpopulation of one species, especially when lots of other species are dying out because of all the litter. We don’t want marine life and other animals to die out and only have insects like cockroaches and spiders left. That is another reason we need more trash cans and ones with lids at Ward Canyon Park.

“Finally and most importantly I believe that there should be more trash cans and ones with lids at Ward Canyon Park because the trash will end up in the ocean. The ocean animals will eat the trash, die, and then the species will eventually go extinct.”

And the finale:

“My request is simple: There should be more trash cans and ones with lids at Ward Canyon Park. I think this because every time I got there it is full of trash.”

In short, no one should suffer the indignity of a filthy park in their neighborhood. And a “Clean San Diego” should be more than a rusty old sign with a slogan from yesteryear. Surely, San Diego is better than this.

And given the latest, rather negative polls on a new Chargers’ stadium, perhaps more San Diegans agree with 10-year-old Olivia Hackworth that taxpayers’ money would be better spent by cleaning up our neighborhood parks.

Once a source of pride, now a source of trash.


Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor and native San Diegan. 

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