Door-Knocking and Street-Musing

When you door-knock for your favorite City Council member, you recognize what it’s like to be a pedestrian on our residential streets. I’ve done it a couple of times on a weekend day in the past month or so.

As a gardener, I notice the plants in people’s yards and find they tell me quite a bit about the people inside the houses:

  • How is their grass, if they even have grass (and that absence also tells me something): Is it mowed? Does it look like the residents weed-and-feed? Do they have clover or creeping Charlie (which are good for pollinators but people often rule them out as useless weeds)?
  • If they have flower beds, are native plants in the mix? How about annuals or perennials? Any edibles in evidence in the front yard?
  • Are their shrubs trimmed in neat rows or are they growing irregularly?
  • As we’re heading into fall, have they given up on keeping up, or are they still at it?

I want to talk to at least half the residents about their plants, but very few are home, or they’re not answering their doors. I understand ducking the door-knockers. I don’t usually want to answer my door to people with clipboards either — though personally, if I can tell the people who approach my door are out for political candidates rather than canvassing for money or Jehovah, I’m more likely to feel like talking. If I knew they wanted to talk to me about my plants, I would definitely open the door!

What I saw all too often this month were locked screen- or storm-doors that prevented me from accessing the doorbell or being able to knock in a way that would be audible. A lot of No Soliciting signs (which legally do not apply to political campaigning, since I’m asking not for money but for civic participation in democracy, but that doesn’t always sit right with the person whose door I’m knocking on anyway). And I heard an awful lot of dogs barking in response to my knocking or ringing.

As a non-dog person, I found the barking to be unwelcoming, and it’s probably intended to scare away potential burglars. I understand that, but it also makes me sad.

Both the locked outer doors and the dog responses were more frequent the closer I was to Snelling Avenue on my route; when I was farther east, near Hamline Avenue, I found more accessible doors and fewer barks, though not many more people answering.

I think it’s the effect of the car sewer that is Snelling — the constant dull roar, always irritating the edge of your mind. And this was on an otherwise nice street — with a park, a community garden, a beautiful stone church. Lots of trees. The only bad thing about it is Snelling on the west end, polluting the air and the ear.

I talked to just a few people each day I door-knocked who seemed open to conversing with a stranger, and they helped me go on. I can’t say it’s invigorating for an introvert like me, but it’s definitely educational, as well as important to maintaining the streets as public places where democracy happens. Plus you get to look at a lot of plants.

House Tilden

One of the houses farther from Snelling, with neatly trimmed grass and few plantings. No one was home. I don’t remember if they had a dog barking inside.

Pat Thompson

About Pat Thompson

Pat Thompson is cochair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council's Transportation Committee, a member of Transition Town - All St. Anthony Park, and a gardener in public and private places. She is a member of the Climate Committee.