Is Ashland becoming unfriendly to kids?

Since my family moved here in August 2004, Ashland has become increasingly a child-unfriendly town. Instead of providing a haven for young families and trying to attract youth to our city, Ashland seems bent on alienating families and driving them away.

Wednesday mornings we walk to school. The other days my daughters take the bus. We live more than a mile from Walker Elementary School and it takes us about 25 minutes to walk. Yesterday we were rushing. Our 9-year-old friend Madison, who was walking with us, had a hurt ankle, and we got a late start. We were cutting across SOU campus and going downhill when Athena tripped on a paper cup someone thoughtlessly threw on the ground. She scraped her hand, her knee, and her hip. It hurt. She was bleeding, and she cried for a long time.

I pulled three band-aids out of my wallet (a trick I learned from a dad who lived overseas, and one I highly recommend). As I put them on my daughter's wounds I felt angry. Angry at the SOU student who was too selfish to put his disposable cup in a trash can, and angry that we live in a town of 6.5259 square miles (its longest axis is only three miles across) with only 21,630 inhabitants and an annual city budget of &

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$91,674,667 million (according to Lee Tuneberg, the city's finance director, whom I called for this column), that made the misguided and short-sighted decision to close Lincoln School.

The majority of the parent community disagreed with this decision, people protested in the streets against it, and, more than two years later, not a day goes by when I don't hear a parent, teacher, or former Lincoln student lament the loss of our school.

What gesture could give a stronger signal of CHILDREN BEGONE! than closing neighborhood elementary schools?

We moved to Ashland for many reasons. One of the most important for coming out West from Greenfield, Mass. (where the annual budget was only $20 million for a city of comparable size) was that we wanted to be in a place where we could walk and bicycle. The problem with walking to Walker is not the distance (1.45 miles, according to MapQuest), it's the streets we have to cross. Morning traffic speeds along Siskiyou Boulevard and drivers often ignore the crosswalks. The day we were walking to school, Feb. 13, at 5:37 p.m. a 22-year-old SOU student was struck by a car while she was in a marked crosswalk. He was transported to Rogue Valley Medical Center in critical condition. According to information put out on the Web by the Ashland Police Department, a pedestrian hit at 20 MPH will suffer serious injuries and has a 15 percent chance of dying. And if it's a child who's hit by a car?

We rush in the mornings, disheveled and tired, to get to the bus stop down the street from our house by 7:38 a.m. even though school doesn't start until 8:15 a.m. and Walker is only a 5-minute bus ride away. "Why can't we drive?" my older daughter asks, stressed about hurrying, worrying about missing the bus. "Because I'm worried about global warming! Because I care about the future! Because I want your children to grow up in a clean world! Because driving a car is the single most polluting thing an individual does!" I shout at her, grabbing lunch boxes and zipping coats, picking Etani up in my arms, and herding us all out the door.

But I know we should really be walking four blocks to Lincoln. It would be too heartbreaking to tell my daughter the whole truth: that the decision makers in Ashland, the ones with a $91.6 million budget at their disposal, are too short-sighted and too child unfriendly to keep open the neighborhood school.

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