Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oak Park Woman plants vegetable garden; city objects

What did I tell you?
If you're interested in sustainability on the local and personal levels, your biggest obstacles will be homeowners associations, zoning boards, and city councils. Those people will be wedded to business as usual long after it becomes apparent to early adopters that BAU just isn't working any more. Watch those local governing entities hang onto the past like adherents of a cargo cult.
Case in point.

To sum up the situation, the Bass family of Oak Park lost their lawn when the sewer line running under their front yard was replaced. Instead of replacing it with a lawn, they replaced it with a vegetable garden. Their neighbors complained to the city and the city has cited them with a criminal violation of city ordinances. The Basses and the city have a court date on July 26th. Mrs. Bass has started a blog, OakParkHateVeggies on Wordpress, to record her experience.

I'm not surprised this controversy is taking place in Oak Park.  When it comes to enforcing business as usual (BAU) norms of middle-class respectability as a way of maintaining property values, Oak Park does not play. Oak Park is so afraid of catching what they think Detroit has, which is blight, that they restrict what property owners can do more than neighboring cities and enforce their will with a vengeance. Put your trash cans out too early or leave them out too long and the police will ticket you. Let your grass grow too high and the city will mow your lawn for you and then bill you. You can only hold two yard sales per year and you have to inform the city in advance. If you want to drink wine while dining in the city, you're out of luck; there are no restaurants with liquor licences. The list goes on and on.

Of course, the people who live there and like it make a point of saying that the police will arrive before you hang up your call to 911, but all the above is the flip side of what the locals praise as "great city services." I hope their property values and middle-class sensibilities are worth it.

Personal aside: When my wife and I were looking for places to live in Oakland County, my co-workers who lived in Oak Park tried to convince me to move there. Unfortunately, when my wife and I looked at houses in the city, we were less than impressed. We got a very conformist, unfriendly, and not-at-all fun vibe from the place, so we decided to look in Ferndale and Royal Oak, which were more to our liking--not that those towns are immune from sustainability-related issues involving zoning. Ferndale has chickens and Royal Oak has Kroger. I'd rather have those controversies, thank you very much.

UPDATE:  Mrs. Bass posted a more complete summary after I wrote (and she read) the above.  Please read it.

UPDATE #2: Welcome all of you coming over here from Oak Park Hates Veggies!  You've made this entry the most popular post of the week for two weeks running as well as making it the fourth most popular of all time with a bullet.  Thank you!

While you're here, I have other posts on the subject that you should read.

Woman in Oak Park swims against the stream, plus Nablopomo for July

Brief update on Oak Park's war on veggies for week ending July 9th

Oak Park's "War on Veggies" goes viral

The Oak Park Outlaw by The Bard of Murdock

Good, bad, and ugly news in Oak Park's "War on Veggies"

Boosting the signal about Oak Park's "War on Veggies"

Oak Park's "War on Veggies" is now an election issue and other news

Her day in court

The first year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News: Part 2 of several

As I post more, I'll add them to the list.

Finally, stick around. I have much more on urban agriculture and other sustainability issues on this blog.


  1. Hello,

    I saw your blog post about Julie Bass and the ridiculous idea that she is facing criminal charges and potential jail time for growing a garden in her own yard.

    The folks from the Urban Homesteading Facebook page have set up a petition on Care2 and we would love your help spreading the word.

    Here's the link to the petition:

    On that page, you can also Grab a Widget and post the petition right on your site.

    Sue Anne Reed
    Communications Manager
    650-622-0860, ext. 201
    Twitter: @Sue_Anne

  2. That's for posting that information, Sue_Anne. I'll be sure to include it in my next post about Julie.