A week or so ago, I attended a meeting where plans for improving the village center were presented by a committee of residents and local businesspeople. The room was crowded. I took the last empty seat in the back row, and the gentleman to my left leaned over to share his handout with me.

When committee began to unveil its first proposal, a nature walk around the tidal marsh that separates Main Street from the harbor, I could feel my neighbor getting more and more agitated.

“I live on Main Street, and have an 180 degree view of pristine marshes,” he said to the group. “I don’t want to see people walking out there.” He also was afraid the trail, which had to bridge the tidal creek, would block him from kayaking on the creek.

What nerve! I thought. Most of that is public land!. Why should it be reserved for your private enjoyment? Maybe I’d like to experience the marsh closeup, too!

I tried to set my snarky thoughts aside, since he was graciously sharing his handout with me. Of course I’d be unhappy if I were in his shoes. Likewise, I’d be concerned if I were the woman to my right, who told the group in a voice trembling with emotion that her house was just a few hundred feet from the trailhead. What about trash? Dog poop? Where would these nature-lovers relieve themselves? “This project”, she declared, “is a fantasy!”

AIYIYI! I thought. This is why it’s so hard to make anything positive happen in the public sector. No matter how benign a project is, how tilted towards the public good, everything impacts somebody negatively. I experienced this again and again when I was on the planning board. It’s much easier to prevent something bad from happening than to create something good.

Can you imagine the outcry there would be if you were trying to get approval today for any of the Cape’s public beaches? The traffic! The parking! The noise! Or a bike path? Abutters always go ballistic about the influx of crime the path will suuposedly bring to their door. How about the National Seashore, Central Park, or Yosemite and Yellowstone? They all came about by overriding the concerns of people who were impacted or displaced. What if those people had been well-funded and well-connected? Well then, the story might have ended differently.

There’s so much emotion around these issues. A natural distrust of strangers, of outsiders. A fear of change, which is frequently experienced as a threat. And when we feel threatened, we tend to get angry. Me/my/mine mentality intensifies. It’s me against you.

And I’m not suggesting that none of the worries are valid. There’s a natural friction when lots of people come together in a public space. People often behave badly, are rude, loud, messy, and destructive. They leave trash and dog crap behind, graffitti and vandalism. And even when they’re not acting like jerks, sheer numbers of people will inevitably alter the feeling of a natural place.

But still…do we want to live in a world where everything that’s beautiful is private, and only the wealthy and/or lucky few have access to the beaches, the woods, to nature?

I was pondering the subject this morning as I walked to one of my favorite spots, a public right-of-way to the water at the end of our street. I like to perch on the rocks at the water’s edge, watching the birds, the bugs, and the sun sparkling on the waves. There’s a small adjacent parking area with a view of the harbor where people pull up to eat lunch, have a smoke, or just experience a few minutes of peace in the middle of their day.

And yes, they sometimes play their car radios too loudly and toss their trash in the bushes. The area is often littered with discarded beer cans, butts, coffee cups and empty nip bottles. My neighbor Serena lives in the adjacent house, and I imagine it’s a bit of a trial. Still, if the access weren’t there, where would I sit quietly by the water? And what about the father and two young sons, who were approaching with fishing rods as I was leaving. Or the old guys with their waders, fishing for stripers? What about them?