The XX Factor

Children’s Treehouse in D.C. Tests America’s Commitment to Liberty

A father and son look out from their treehouse onto fruited plains of lost freedoms. 

A debate over a classic case of government overreach has convulsed our nation’s capitol this month. As Ammon Bundy and his band of armed ranchers continue their protest of federal land use policy in Oregon, a parallel conflict is brewing on the genteel streets of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. A couple on Archibald Walk, an alley near G street and Sixth Street Southeast, were simply minding their own business when they decided to construct a giant, princess castle–style tree house for their daughters, ages three and five. Yes, building on the elm tree they selected on their property meant availing themselves of about 20 inches of public space. But they, like Cliven Bundy, figured that space was wide-open territory. After all, it was about 10 feet off the ground.

Ellen Psychas and Bing Yee weren’t ready for the response from their big government liberal socialist neighbors. One neighbor, Loraine Heckenberg, , told the Washington Post that she has spent “as many as 20 hours a week in an effort to have the treehouse removed from the public portion of the alley.” The process has taken a toll on her, and she hopes the tree house will be torn down so that her community “can go back to healing.” As Kirsten Oldenburg, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B chairwoman, said: “When people go into opposition on something, they’ll pull out every possible way to get at something… People on Capitol Hill, they know how to get information. They are professionals.”

Now, the tree house is in jeopardy—just like America’s commitment to liberty. Psychas and Yee say they tried to obtain permits before putting hammer to nail, but neither city transportation officials nor the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs informed them of any regulations regarding “the building of small treehouses.” But since the neighborhood flap began, Matthew Marcou, an associate director for public space regulation administration at the District Department of Transportation, has told the Post that the couple did, in fact, need a permit, and that “a review should have been done before the city’s public space committee before the treehouse was built.” Psychas and Yee’s monument to freedom will be subject to a public hearing on January 28.

Predictably, the backlash to the tree house has provoked a backlash of its own. One commenter on the neighborhood blog Capitol Hill Corner, which first broke the story, wrote, “People who oppose tree houses never had, nor ever will have, any quality of life.” Post columnist Petula Dvorak calls Treehousegate “yet another example of the country’s growing intolerance for childhood and all the imperfections that come with raising kids. … Way to go, grown-ups, for trying to kill important parts of becoming an adult: discovery, risk, independence.”

Our country’s going to hell, as Donald Trump would say. And as our most famous real estate mogul might argue, if there’s a tragedy of the commons in American life, it’s that more of our public airspace isn’t populated by turreted and crenellated structures. It’s time to Make America Great Again by cutting red tape and exercising our liberty to cast a long shadow over whatsoever block we choose. A vote for tree houses is a vote for quality of life.