Should Sidewalk Chalk Be Banned?

A plan to outlaw childhood fun in a Denver community hits a little too close to home.

Moving sucks. Trust me, by this time next month, I’ll have moved for the fifth time in five years. Each time a lease ends, I hope I’ll find a home and a block that fits my personality. Through countless visits to rental properties—to find my newest place, I viewed more than 20 before finding a good match—I’ve developed a foolproof way to judge the character of a street. It must have at least one of three criteria: flowers on stoops or windowsills, neighbors in shiny plastic lawn chairs (even if said lawn chairs are sitting on concrete and not actual, um, lawn), and colorful sidewalk-chalk drawings up and down the pavement. If I see one or more of these things, I know I’ll be dealing with neighbors who care about their properties and are engaged in keeping the neighborhood looking nice.

This is why I was stunned to read about a Denver community banning sidewalk chalk. A homeowners’ association in Stapleton wants to prohibit the use of chalk on pavement claiming it “offends, disturbs or interferes with the peaceful enjoyment” of the community.

Take a minute to pick your jaw up off the—perfectly clean—sidewalk. Who are these people who are offended by sidewalk chalk? Are they disturbed by all fun? Must they also hate things like ice cream cones and pony rides and French-braided pigtails?

The Stapleton ban hit close to home for Megan Wendell, owner of Canary Promotions. Wendell, currently a Glenside resident, said her family’s relocation from their rowhome on a typical Mount Airy block was largely brought on by a cranky neighbor who complained about Wendell’s then-two-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s sidewalk chalk habit. “It wasn’t the only reason, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Wendell explained. “I was shocked. And then I was really angry and then a  bit heartbroken about it. This was the only place our daughter had to play on the block.”

By and large, sidewalk chalking is an activity enjoyed mostly by the pre-school population. Unless brilliant toddlers have accidentally started drawing anatomically correct human parts or accidentally spelled out naughty words with their cursory knowledge of the alphabet, I can’t fathom what could offend even the stodgiest of Stapleton (or Mount Airy) residents.

And a fantastic thing about chalk? It’s easy to get rid of in case something disrespectful managed to slip through. When the tween-age boys across the street from my last house got a hold of their younger sister’s sidewalk chalk, they scrawled the word “BOOBS” across a brick wall about five dozen times. No one seemed offended—even the sweet 75-year-old block captain took a photo with it—but if they were, it only lasted a few hours. A thunderstorm that evening washed away the words. The next day, our block went back to being decorated with flowers and hearts and rainbows.

“I don’t know how you don’t feel ridiculous bringing up this sort of thing,” Wendell said. “There was far worse blight on our block.”

I know one thing: I’ll be extra strict with my moving criteria if I ever find myself apartment-hunting in Mount Airy.