Go to the Botanical Gardens of Asheville on any given day and, if the day is sunny and warm, you're bound to see families with small children playing in the creek. I took my kids there recently. After an initial inspection of the riverbed, it was discovered that there were a few pieces of broken glass a wary parent would remove before letting their children play therein.
My efforts to clean up, though incomplete, were rewarded by a couple of pounds of glass shards and cans that were no longer any danger to tender little feet. The apparent age of much of this glass and metal led me to assume that such a cleanup has not been performed on the creek in the botanical gardens for quite some time.
Considering how beloved are the gardens, it is difficult to believe how dangerous it is to play in the creek there. It is the tragedy of the commons, written in the sand of the creek bed.
For those who are unaware of this concept, the tragedy of the commons is an idea first aired in print by ecologist Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article in Science, in which the author describes the dilemma that occurs when a shared resource upon which individuals act independently is ultimately depleted or degraded. This eventuates simply because no one takes responsibility for the cumulative damage being done to the resource, as each of the individuals represents only a small part of the total usage of the resource.
This only partly [applies] to the creek bed. The staff at the gardens does a wonderful job tending to the verdant and varied flora and the many structures and paths of the sanctuary. That the creek bed falls outside of their mandate is itself an open invitation to any of the many caring Asheville residents who frequent the gardens to take an active role in promoting the health and cleanliness of the ecosystem there. …
— Josiah Ramsay Johnston