Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Latest Government vs. Garden Controversy

In the last year there have been a couple high-profile incidents in which local governments have gone after front-yard gardeners and cited them for violating some ridiculous ordinances. 

I am not a political blogger by any stretch but I'm going to go out on a limb and state, in no uncertain terms, that telling people they can't grow vegetables in their own front yard is way past where I draw the line on government involvement in our lives.  If it's not an illegal crop, the government shouldn't have any right to tell people they can't grow it on their own property.

But in today's news I ran across a story that is slightly different but no less remarkable in its ability to make you shake your head and ask "what is this world coming to?"  In this case, the owner of an urban coffee shop in Philadelphia took it upon himself to clean up a city-owned vacant lot that had 40 tons - 80,000 pounds - of garbage at his own expense.  And then he went a step further and paid to have the lot landscaped with benches, fencing and cherry trees.  He did so after making 24 phone calls, 7 written requests and 4 in-office visits to the city's Redevelopment Authority to have them take care of it and all of those requests were ignored or refused.  What's worse, the city had actually cited him in 2011 for the litter on this lot even though the city now acknowledges that he doesn't own the lot. 

The city's unimproved lot filled with refuse.

And what thanks does he get from the city?  Do they sheepisly forgive him the citation they wrote?  Do they thank him and honor him as someone striving to make the city a better place?  How about a symbolic slap on the back and an 'atta boy?  Nope.  They'd rather slap him with a lawsuit.  Apparently the city sees this action as trespassing and unauthorized alteration of private property. 

After the clean-up and re-landscaping
Hopefully this story will have a happy ending.  Clearly, the coffee shop owner didn't have the right to alter property that didn't belong to him and the city flat out told him not to do go forward with his plans.  But I'm holding out hope that common sense will rule the day and the city will say "thanks, but please don't do this sort of thing again."  And maybe, just maybe, the city can use this example as bulletin board material to inspire a little more responsiveness next time a citizen wants to do something to make the city a better place.  Of course, that might also be part of the problem as it sounds like some of the residents in this neighborhood are worried about gentrification.  Still, it's hard to imagine a world in which 40 tons of garbage is more desirable than the shade of a cherry tree and a bench to sit on while you have a coffee. 


  1. Bureaucracy will rule, unfortunately. Any city stupid enough to fine him for a mess that wasn't his is stupid enough to take him to court for beautifying a vacant lot. We live in a country/world run by idiots.

  2. I wonder, when the city issued the citation, did they not think that he would have to trespass in order to dispose of the litter? I cannot help but be reminded of my own city's admonition not to use the old roadcut on my property, adjacent to the wetland, for "overflow parking," and then using that road cut once a month for the past two years to park a city vehicle while they monitor the outflow rate and water quality from the wetland.

    Yeesh. So much of that article makes me want to scream...a community that prefers trash-strewn lots to the 'gentrification' of a parklike space, low-level sinecures who are unresponsive and unsympathetic to their constituent-employers. I agree that the coffee shop owner should not have given the impression of seizing the property, but from this point, if I were him, I'd place a lien on the parcel for the cost of the trash removal and the citation with an outrageous monthly interest rate.

  3. I doubt that common sense will rule, but maybe the rightful owner will come testify in his defense. So sad that lawsuits like this are what we spend our taxpayer dollar on.