As Chapel Hillians increasingly recognize our moral obligation to address the housing affordability crisis, inspiration may come from an unlikely source: pickleball.
Think of your typical suburban single-family lot as a tennis court, with plenty of open green space and clear boundaries. When you first get a tennis court it’s a lot of fun but as the years go by and your knees become increasingly angrier at you, you start to wonder, “why is this tennis court so damn big?”
Enter pickleball. The fastest-growing sport in America lures former tennis players with a tantalizing whisper: “you can still feel athletic even though you barely have to move.”
Through miracles of geometry that are beyond the scope of this article, one tennis court is big enough to hold four pickleball courts – a neat trick that cash-strapped park and rec departments across America have started to figure out.
Chapel Hill is a well-off community with many tennis courts. It is also totally thirsty for pickleball. Where local residents once clamored for court-side seats in the Dean Dome, they now jockey for the most shaded pickleball courts at Ephesus Park. It’s gotten so bad that some residents want the Town to invest emergency COVID stimulus funds in pickleball courts.
We here at the Blog Blog are big fans of pickleball and believe the town needs more pickleball courts. But we also recognize that budget and land constraints make the construction of new pickleball courts difficult.
If we are to serve the needs of today and tomorrow’s picklers, it may be time for us all to accept that some existing tennis courts may need to be converted to pickleball courts.
In that spirit, we have compiled the following FAQs to help Chapel Hillians who may be asking themselves “is my tennis court right for conversion to multiple pickleball courts?”
1. I’m concerned about stormwater. Won’t more pickleball courts lead to more flooding in town?
No, well-designed pickleball courts take up no more room than a single tennis court, and would not add new impervious surface.
2. Don’t pickleball courts attract criminal elements?
No. In fact, because pickleball courts hold more people than a single tennis court, you might experience a reduction in crime due to – paraphrasing Jane Jacobs – more eyes on the court.
3. Can’t people just go to Durham or Burlington to play pickleball?
It’s important for people to be able to play pickleball near where they live and work. Driving long distances to play pickleball wastes fossil fuels and exacerbates climate change.
4. Are you sure about the stormwater thing?
5. Am I a bad person because I have a tennis court?
No, many of us in Chapel Hill grew up playing tennis and now have our own tennis court. Tennis is fun! But it’s important to recognize that having a tennis court is a luxury many cannot afford today – and that in the past government policies intentionally prevented households of color from building tennis courts.
Wow, I did not realize that! Am I a bad person if I do not convert my tennis court to a pickleball court?
6. We’re losing our tree canopy. How many trees will I have to cut down to convert my tennis court to pickleball courts?
Do you have trees on your tennis court?
7. Isn’t this government overreach? I don’t want to convert my tennis court to pickleball courts.
You don’t have to convert to pickleball courts. We simply ask that you give your neighbor the freedom to convert their tennis court to pickleball courts.
8. I don’t want my neighbors to have pickleball courts. Shouldn’t the government protect my rights?
That’s not how freedom works.
9. I don’t want a bunch of undergrads playing pickleball. What can be done to prevent that?
Maybe don’t move to a college town next time?
10. I’m excited about the possibility of converting my tennis court to pickleball courts. How can I get started?
Currently, it is illegal to convert your tennis court to pickleball courts. You’ll need to lobby your elected officials to change the law. In Chapel Hill, that typically means writing a petition to Town Council and buying a web domain like FriendsOfPickleballCourtConversions.org.
11. I’m really starting to get the vision. By adding more courts in the same amount of space, there is more opportunity for everyone to play pickleball! But couldn’t we help more people play pickleball by stacking courts vertically?
Ok, let’s not be ridiculous. This is still Chapel Hill we’re talking about.