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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why Are We Ashamed of Sustainability?


Have you heard about this one? A woman in Oak Park, MI, is facing possible jail time over the fact that she constructed some raised garden beds in her front yard, apparently in defiance of code that says that front yard vegetation must be "live" and "common."  Click here for the city's response, in which they seem to argue that people move to Oak Park because what they prize is lawn after lawn of closely manicured grass punctuated by the occasional hosta and marigold installation.  When it comes to the kinds of things, like gardens, that might actually get the residents out front of their homes, talking with one another while they enjoy their lawns in their own way, "the average citizen would prefer to see such d├ęcor contained to the back yard."

That's fine.  I have long defended the right of people to select their living environments based on any criteria they see fit.  I once owned a condo in a complex that specifically prohibited holiday lights up after January, and I was pretty happy about it.  I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law would live in any neighborhood with an ordinance prohibiting geese that wear seasonal outfits.

The larger problem here is not whether communities can make ordinances regarding what decorations can be on a property; they can.  What bothers me is that this is just one of many such stories that indicate a national fear that appearing to grow or raise your own food or undertake other sustainable activities is something shameful that will bring down the property values.

Look at these:
  • According to this link, a visible clothes line can bring property values down by 15 percent, because air drying your clothes is "unsightly."
  • Right here, we see one of many ordinances forbidding backyard chickens, in spite of the fact that raising chickens is a time-honored way of cutting food bills.  During the Great Depression, many people kept chickens in their garages, along with meat rabbits.
  • Speaking of, other municipalities in fact do forbid meat rabbits, considering them "livestock."  However, pets are OK.  So, keeping a parrot is probably OK, as is a pot-bellied pig, but forget about raising rabbits or chickens for consumption.
The takeaway?  It seems to all come together to indicate that if you spend your time and money watering, fertilizing, and manicuring a patch of grass, if you nurture your exotic flowers that were never meant to live in your climate, if you dry all of your clothes in the clothes dryer and bring all of your veggies home from the big box grocers in plastic bags, you are everyone's ideal neighbor.  But if you take steps to live more sustainably, growing/raising some of your own food and attempting to live a little bit lighter on the budget and the resources, it lowers property values and makes you some kind of problem neighbor.

I will renew my urging from last year to consider planting something edible in your front yard.  Make it pretty if you wish, but grow something there you can eat.  And while you are at it, hang a few clothes out to dry while you play a game of catch with your kid on the front yard.  It is time for suburban America to stop being driven into their back yards with every act  of sustainability.
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1 comment:

  1. Amen! My front yard consists of all my herbs and a few flowering bushes for camoflage. I thank my stars my city allows chickens, and I live in an area with no HOA. My veggies grow in the back yard,and eventually I'll get a clothesline rigged too!

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