Here's a wonderful story that I heard this morning, about a couple who solved a problem with a Buddha.
Dan and Lu Stevenson of Oakland, California, wanted to do something to clean up their neighborhood. A traffic median on a street corner had become a dumping ground for garbage, old mattresses, and other rubbish. The city took days to respond to calls to clean it up. The corner also became a magnet for drug trafficking, public urination, and graffiti.
So in 2009 Dan went to a hardware store and bought a little concrete meditating Buddha. He installed the Buddha on the median with epoxy and rebar. Dan and Lu are not Buddhists; Dan said he thought of installing the Buddha because "he was a neutral being that denotes compassion, brotherhood, and peace," and he thought the presence of a Buddha would "change the energy" on the street corner.
Soon there was a slight change -- the garbage and graffiti still arrived, but it was being dumped on the other side of the street divide. In the first year, the dumping, drug, graffiti, and urination problems were reduced about 50 percent, Dan Stevenson said.
In the second year, an anonymous neighbor painted the Buddha white. Then people began to leave offerings of flowers and fruit. During this time the illegal dumping all but disappeared.
Other people in the neighborhood began to pick up around the Buddha, so neighbors were around all hours of the day. The graffiti artists, drug pushers, etc. no longer had the corner to themselves, and moved elsewhere.
The little concrete Buddha became a neighborhood focal point. People on walks would stop there to view the Buddha and talk to other neighbors on walks.
A Vietnamese couple came and asked if they could build a shelter with a roof over the Buddha. In some parts of Asia it is considered disrespectful to leave a Buddha out in the open. Soon the neighborhood Buddha had a pretty, bright red "house."
But then someone complained to the city of Oakland that there was a religious display on public property, and a public works supervisor came and said the Buddha would have to be removed. The city would jackhammer the Buddha into bits if no one else took him away.
The neighbors immediately began to call and write city government officials asking to keep the 11th Avenue Buddha. Oakland now says it has postponed dismantling the Buddha and is "studying the situation."
This post and the last one both touch on the issue of religion on public property. In my non-lawyerly opinion the 11th Avenue Buddha is not an obvious First Amendment violation, but I want to go into that in another post.