The long awaited ‘Broom vs. Leaf Blower’ challenge took place on December 11th 2015 along the sidewalk next to the west side New Leaf Community Market in Santa Cruz. Like any good wild-west showdown it happened at high noon. Indeed it resembles the wild-west when it comes to leaf blower use in places with no bans or restrictions on the books like Santa Cruz. That is precisely the problem and I offered the challenge as a step towards finding a solution.
As the one offering the challenge I set the conditions. They were to clean the exact same amount of leaves and debris, (one green waste can full) spread over the exact same hardscape area of approximately 100 x 4 feet. My weapon of choice was a bamboo broom vs. my challenger with a two-stroke leaf blower. I asked four local dignitaries Gary Patton, Lisa McAndrews, Brett Graf and Tim Brattan to be judges and Grant Wilson was the MC for the challenge. The judges were on hand to monitor the action and render a verdict at the completion of the competition. Each judge had one of four categories to monitor – speed, thoroughness, noise and air pollution levels. The media and the public showed up for the excitement.
It took three months after I announced the challenge to get someone to actually take me up on it. The competition either did not take me seriously or they were running scared. As I put out the challenge I had no idea if I would prevail or not, at least in the speed category. I had a good guess that I would in the noise and air pollution categories.
Whole systems approach
The approach if it is not obvious is one of whole systems.
In other words: It is not just the speed of cleaning off the hardscape that matters. Of course that matters to landscaper business owners and since I happen to be a landscape business owner myself I can legitimately weigh in on that.
Yes, speed matters to me but so does the soundscape and air quality of the neighborhoods we work in. I do not think it is responsible to destroy the soundscape and pollute the air for the sake of speed.
And the winner is…
With my trusty broom I won in the noise pollution category, the decibel meter reading of the leaf blower was off the charts, there was no comparison in the air quality category (with the two-stroke blower spewing out gas and oil exhaust), we tied in the thoroughness category (with both of us coming in at 6 on a scale of 1 to 10) and I was only 24 seconds slower in the speed category.
So, of the four categories I won two, tied one and lost one. As the article in the local newspaper declared, “ Broom sweeps the competition.” This is all to prove the point in a serious yet playful way that we can do better. There are ‘best practices’ to employ if you insist on using a leaf blower. There are quieter electric models to purchase and having restrictions or even a ban regarding loud leaf blowers might be a good idea. Over twenty cities in California have gas leaf blower bans. We believe it is prudent to protect the soundscape and air quality in our communities.
I am a founding member of the Leaf Blower Task Force, we have been meeting for over a year, in that time we have conducted the Leaf Blower survey and in the next few months we will be working on recommendations for the city of Santa Cruz.
The broom vs. leaf blower challenge was a step in that direction. Stay tuned.