STEPPING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

13 06 2009

Last month, I suggested that, rather than pursue the chimeras of Maytown and the Convention Center, Nashvilleans would be better served by taking the suggestions of the” Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee” and running with them.  Much to my delight, that’s just what Metro Councilman Jason Holleman is doing.

The step he is proposing is a no-brainer, really, and I was surprised to learn that it needs to be taken, but–get this: for the last fifty years, it has been illegal to have a community garden in Nashville .  It doesn’t matter if you own the land and it’s an open field, you can’t legally farm it in the urban services district.  And, even if you live on the property and just have a garden, it is illegal for you to sell your produce.  Gee…I thought the only produce that was illegal to sell was the kind people grow in closets…but it turns out that the criminal agricultural population is not restricted to pot growers…all the urban community gardens springing up around Nashville–and there are more and more of them–are illegal.  We are fortunate that Metro has not sent out the paddy wagons and bulldozers to round up these criminal gardeners and turn their paradises back into parking lots.

Holleman’s bill is co-sponsored by Kristine LaLonde, Emily Evans, Erik Cole, Mike Jameson, Bo Mitchell, Megan Barry, Jerry Maynard, Sandra Moore, Erica Gilmore, and Darren Jernigen. Remember those names–these are the  Metro Council members who have at least a clue about where this country is headed.  Councilman Holleman told me in an email that his proposal has attracted “questions about the details, but no negative feedback.” In other words, there’s a strong likelihood that it will pass.

One hair that the bill splits is that, while it legalizes the sale of produce grown in the city, which will allow  gardeners to support and expand their operations, it does not allow “farm stands” at gardens in residential neighborhoods.  In other words, you can’t have a stash of picked tomatoes sitting there waiting for customers.  Gardeners must take their produce elsewhere and sell it, or contract with people through consumer-supported agriculture-type arrangements.  My guess is that this barrier will increasingly, and informally, be breached.

The bill does not permit raising livestock in the city, which I think is another prohibition that will soon fall.   Currently, if you have a few rabbits, chickens, or pigeons in your backyard, you have to be able to pass them off as “pets”–but who’s going to notice where your breakfast egg comes from, or complain if one of your “pets” disappears and ends up on the dinner table?  Is this what the National Animal Identification System is intended to enforce?

“Mrs. Jones, we’re from Animal Control and we noticed that the transponder on one of your chickens went dead yesterday.  Here’s our search warrant–why don’t you just tell us: where’s the body?”  Yeah, right…

Backyard animal raising is a more complex issue, in some ways, because animals, unlike plants, sometimes make noises and create odors that are annoying to neighbors. Perhaps the way to deal with this would be to allow people to keep animals if all or most of a neighborhood is in agreement. It’s certainly worth discussing. What do you think, Metro Council members? Are you ready for the next bold step in local food security?

Now, besides food production, another tightly regulated part of the American urban scene is housing, which in our economic model is privately owned, or often privately owed rather than owned.  As the economy has begun to stumble (and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!), many people have fallen behind in their house payments or been unable to come up with their rent money and been evicted, frequently resulting, at first, in perfectly good houses standing empty.  I say “at first” because often these empty houses are broken into and stripped of anything salvageable, such as copper pipes.  They then become derelict shells that all too often get bulldozed, since we’re not yet desperate enough for building materials to take them apart stud by stud.  Soon come, soon come.

But meanwhile, the stupid logic of private property dictates that these houses must stand empty while their former occupants, already unable to afford  to keep a roof over their heads, have to seek shelter elsewhere.  Many move in with friends and relatives, which is kind of  good, since one of the things we as a culture need to relearn is how to get along with each other and share close quarters, but that’s a lesson better learned voluntarily.  Some people who are evicted don’t have family or friends who can make room for them, and become homeless.

We can contrast this peculiar behavior with what happened during the breakdown of the Soviet Union.  Since all housing was government owned, people were not made homeless due to their inability to earn money.

Or we can contrast it with the third world, where, from Sao Paulo to Calcutta, the poor scavenge together shelter from whatever they can find, and create vast cities-within-cities.  Whenever homeless people in the US start to do that, the codes department soon shows up with a bulldozer and “cleans it up.”  Property rights and appearances are still paramount in America.  They trump compassion every time.

It would be great if we could change that and allow people a little freedom to create a roof over their heads if we as a community are otherwise unable to provide them with one.  That’s a big step down the road from legalizing community gardens, and I don’t expect Councilman Holliman to propose it next month or even next year, but we are going to have to start examining all the ways in which unreasonable expectations create unsolvable problems–whether in the area of food, housing, or personal behavior–and don’t get me started on that topic!

Hopefully enough people will realize that it’s easier and more compassionate to change our expectations and relax the law than it is to try and keep a tight rein on  things and create criminals ex nihilo.  We’ve got enough real problems to deal with already.

music:  Incredible String Band, “Big Ted

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6 responses

14 06 2009
Karen

Wow! Great post. I can’t believe Nashville has outlawed community gardens for 50 years! In the 1970’s, when I came of age, there was still a movement of back to the land, whole organically grown foods, community gardens, free health care, working together, etc. and then I saw all that drain away under the pressure of a largely Republican capitalistic government and society; and basic costs became so expensive that many could no longer do anything for free and many could not buy a home or land on such low pay as they were able to scrape together or afford the constantly rising taxes. It’s been like living under siege (the siege of greed). Community gardens became so regulated in my town and too expensive to rent. Landlords prohibited them and required renters to do lawn care. Chickens were outlawed in town. Bicylists were required to have licenses…etc. etc. They got you one way or another.
But, I don’t know if things will get any better. I see the younger tatooed, pierced generation as extremely lazy and selfish, unwilling to do anything for anybody but themselves (angry for no reason. They haven’t even tried yet!). That was the attitude in the 1980’s that destroyed all those dreams of a simplier, affordable, sustainable lifestyle.
I would really like to see laws that would allow people to build a home without all the regulations and required purchased building materials (or abolish all the old laws — think how years and years of politicians have been adding more and more laws to our lives — its exponential!). I have had a dream for years to do that, but fear of regulations has stopped me. I didn’t want my place torn down. Yuppie neighbors are not to be trusted. There is money that has to be paid for the priveledge of owning a home that one might not have, besides the cost of the land itself or the materials. So, I still do not own my own home because I would not take out a mortgage with what seemed to me as unscrupulous loan companies at extremely high interest fees (the ones Obama is bailing out — it makes me so sick! And he’s bailing out the car companies so all those “slaves” that work for them can continue their jobs, making CEOs rich!)
This is the USA today and these are the people we’ve made rich with over-priced rents and high gas prices and over-priced food filled with toxic chemicals and over-priced services from health care to veterinarian care and fees and taxes for everything and laws to suppress everything good while drugs and homelessness are epidemic. It has been up to the populus to pay for the extravagant lifestyles of corporate CEOs and government officials.
The organic food market has been steadily growing, it seems, but it is part of the over-priced capitalistic system. In this town, organic food costs 3 times what non-organic costs. Besides WANTING to buy organic, I need to because of chemical allergies — which is also becoming epidemic (chemical alleriges and illness related to chronic ingestion and exposure to toxins).
Yes, I think the US infrastructure is build on greed and immorality (not the religious kind — I think of Dorothy Day who wrote in her journals that the losing of religion has caused a permissiveness that is not good, that steps on and abuses other people, but I wonder “what about inherant respect for others?” Does it not exist?); but I don’t know if it will topple yet — when the population gets so crowded that people turn murderous, then it will, like over-crowded rats in a lab cage, or like lemmings rushing to the sea. When you get tired of people telling you that you can’t do something that does not really affect them in any way, is not noisy or unsanitary or dangerous to anyone…then maybe it will. When the rich have people sleeping in their yards and they have to hire personal policemen or when the rich are afraid to step out of doors… when even the rich will have to eat crap, when they, too, are dying of diseases of pollution…when money no longer protects them, things will change. When the poor no longer dream of money, but dream of changes.

14 06 2009
brothermartin

Dorothy Day is definitely one of my inspirations in life–i have been privileged to know some of her descendants, and tho they are not exactly cut from her mold, there is a certain spark they carry.

I am not down on the younger generation at all. I know a lot of young countercultural folks in Nashville who are dedicated, focused, and hardworking. My wife and Iappreciate the steady stream of visitors who come to work with us and learn what we know about homesteading and keeping our sanity.

I think those of us who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s were very lucky to grow up when America was still rich and, in many ways, less controlled than it is these days–it’s a lot harder/more dangerous to be young now than it was then, imho….at the same time, i find that many of the young people i meet have, in a sense, built on the foundation we created and are now doing/dreaming things that amaze and delight me….and we all have our shortcomings, but i’d rather encourage peoples’ strengths than reject them for their weaknesses….

15 06 2009
Karen

When I lived on the other side of this state, the young people were more interested in alternative community and had alternative politics and did lots of fascinating things that were fun to get involved in — like the free bikes program or the community gardens or the food bank that had organic, vegan food as an alternative. But, unfortunately, it became too expensive for me over there since I had no land or was not a homeowner. This side of the state is like night to day. It is commercial and conservative. Half the vehicles are BIG pick-up trucks, even bigger than they made them in the 70’s. The youth are disaffected and uninterested (and uninteresting). I assume they are rebelling against something, but to me, they are just of the same ilk as the conservative, selfish, greedy corporations, etc. What’s the difference in their attitude really? What’s the difference between a neo-nazi and some old corporate fascist? Just appearance is all. I’m on the wrong side of the state and need to get back!
I do feel lucky to have come of age in the 70’s — there was so much good going on (not counting disco music or John Travolta’s movies then!). It was hard to know where to go or what to do. I wanted to join the Farm, but I wanted my dog, too, and I wanted to hike in Montana and be outdoors, and I wanted to participate in alternative society — solar heating and organic gardening and finding alternatives to petroleum or conventional building — and then their was my art and I wanted to finish college. I did it all on my own without any financial help from anyone (not even my parents).
It does seem more stifled now. But, perhaps this is just the rambling of an “ancient” person, old fashioned and “in the way” — I think not. I think we did what we could, but the government seemed to keep regulating against us, but the youth could learn so much from us. When we were young we learned from those with folk wisdom and experience. Remember those Foxfire books?
Also, Brazil initiated a bio-fuels system in the 1970’s so it COULD have been done here.
I just can’t see why people in this country have to wait until things get so bad before they change or why it has to get to where it is no longer profitable or beneficial for them before they change. Why not change because it is a good idea? And why do so many people want to prevent someone from building their own home if it doesn’t look like theirs?

15 06 2009
brothermartin

kid—the hairless monkeys on this planet are not logical….don’t expect rationality from them, for all their cleverness…

16 06 2009
Karen

Ok, I guess I never learn!…always expecting too much! :)

16 06 2009
brothermartin

yep…a lot of intergalactic anthropological study has confirmed that testosterone levels like those in the typical human male almost invariably create severe crises for the species/planet involved…occasionally a species will evolve through this barrier, so there is some hope for humanity, but most advanced galactic cultures have a much lower male testosterone level…it really does make critters crazy….and fiendishly clever…

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