When a Los Osos woman received a passive-aggressive note from an anonymous neighbor complaining about the state of her yard, her first reaction was dismay.
Her second was to turn one person’s negative into a positive for the whole neighborhood.
How? With 100 pink flamingos and a block party.
Katrina Van Conant and her husband were excited when they purchased their home in Los Osos earlier this year.
The couple, who had been living in San Luis Obispo, were drawn in by the community and the unique design of the house, which Van Conant said was designed by a Cal Poly architecture student in the 1970s.
“It’s a really interesting, unique place,” Van Conant said. “We did a lot of looking around and didn’t find anything that even compared.”
The couple moved into the house in January and began a slew of improvement projects to make their new home livable. They redid the heating system, rebuilt the house’s decks, rebuilt the walls of the garage, replaced the siding and worked on fixing water leaks.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do our yard yet because we’ve been so focused on making the house safe and ready to live in,” Van Conant said. She added that she has a plan to landscape the yard with sustainable, drought-tolerant plants, but hasn’t had the money due to other repairs the house needs.
So the couple were “sad and discouraged” when a neighbor left them an anonymous note asking them to “care a bit more” and do something about the condition of the yard.
“My initial response was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel bad, why would someone be offended by our house?’” Van Conant said. “We’ve met our neighbors directly around us and they’re really sweet people. We were excited to move to Los Osos because of the unique sense of community.”
But then she came up with an idea. Van Conant would start a GoFundMe to buy 100 plastic pink flamingos for her yard.
It originally started as a joke but quickly grew into something more. Her $550 target is up to $700 as of Wednesday.
So in addition to helping finance the flamingos, she’s also going to use the money to throw a party for all her neighbors (which will include an adult Slip-n-Slide), with the rest going toward landscaping the yard.
She says she’s heard from many people who’ve had similar conflicts with neighbors.
“To me, it was kind of a performance art piece. How do you seize the dialogue and make it something positive and get people involved and hear their experiences?” she said. “It started out of a place of fun and hearing people’s thoughts.”
And why flamingos?
“The only thing I can think of as a lawn ornament that wasn’t obtrusive and weird was pink flamingos,” she said. “They seem to make everyone smile.”
Van Conant put the flamingos out in front of her yard last Friday and said the response has been great.
“It was really funny. People were driving by waving, laughing and taking photos,” she said. And her neighbors have gotten into the fun. Since she posted about her experience, she said she’s had several neighbors come over and bring their kids or a bottle of wine.
“That’s rare and doesn’t happen as often as it used to,” Van Conant said.
On Monday morning, however, Van Conant woke to find that all 100 flamingos were missing. She drove around the neighborhood with a friend and was able to recover about 55 plastic birds that had been strewn throughout the area.
She doesn’t know who took them or who wrote the original note. But they’re welcome at the party.
“Whoever did it, I’m not upset. The party’s still on and we’re going to have 55 flamingos,” she said, adding that she’s had neighbors stop by to ask where the flamingos went because they were making them happy.
“My biggest goal in all of this is to raise awareness in how we should support each other as neighbors and focus on asking each other how we can help each other and rebuild that sense of community,” Van Conant said.