Takoma Park is often at the forefront of local innovation, so it’s no surprise that a group of City residents has come forward with a plan to establish a Scatter Garden in the community where the ashes of deceased relatives could be spread, with a small plaque in honor of departed loved ones also placed at the site.
I had several conversations with one of the organizers of this effort earlier this year, and I was pleased that Mayor Stewart gave them an opportunity to make a presentation before the City Council about the Scatter Garden concept on November 2. Since this was just an introductory session, the Council was not formally considering the proposal nor were there any votes.
I think it’s fair to say the Council had a mixed reaction, with several of my colleagues offering qualified support, while others had questions or doubts. No one rejected the idea outright, but some of us expressed skepticism as to whether the idea was something that would be appropriate for our municipal government to take responsibility for. That’s the camp I’m in, as I noted in the recent Washington Post article on this topic.
I’m sympathetic to the impulse behind the proposal, as I derive great solace myself from the gravesites of several beloved relatives who have passed away. But I also wonder whether it’s something we should devote City resources to when we have so many other local needs. For example, I’ve supported increased spending in areas like affordable housing and programs for disadvantaged youth, and, if anything, I would like to see us spend more in those areas. While a Scatter Garden would probably include fees that could mean minimal direct costs for the City, the reality is that there would probably be some increased maintenance required.
Even if the cost and staff time issues are minimized, there is still the fundamental question of whether this is one of the things we should be taking on as a local government. As the proponents of the project acknowledged in response to a question from one of my Council colleagues, we would in effect be establishing an official municipal cemetery.
There have most likely been plenty of unofficial ash scatterings in the City, and at least one of our religious institutions (the Presbyterian Church) has its own Scatter Garden. I’m open to considering whether there may be other less formal ways for the City to assist those seeking alternatives that would give them the comfort of knowing their loves ones were laid to rest here in Takoma Park. Meanwhile, for me, a convincing case in support of the Scatter Garden proposal presented to the City Council hasn’t yet been made.
Readers interested in further information on this issue may wish to view a video archive of the Council discussion on this topic. My comments start at about the 1 hour and 4 minute mark.