Friday, December 3, 2010

Why can't Windsor be more like Ann Arbor?

This is what two of Windsor's councillors said about urban chickens last month:
"I think most people are opposed to chickens in the city," said Ron Jones.
 "People in this community don't want chickens running around in their backyards*," according to Councillor Drew Dilkens, adding that it would be "clucking ridiculous" for city administrative staff to be tied up in a committee investigating something that might benefit only "a very small handful of people."
Really?   I would like to suggest strongly that many more than a very small handful of people stand to benefit from the proposed working group and a supportive council.

I do agree that it is unlikely that many people will want to acquire chickens, at least at first.

But that doesn't make it unimportant.

I would argue that food security, access to healthy food and local food that minimizes the use of fossil fuels, and a city council that actively supports them make for an exciting, vibrant city where people want to live.   And since we don't have a whole lot of that in Windsor at the moment, if we want it (and who doesn't?), a good way to get started is to start small.  A small number of residents with legal backyard hens would be a good start.

Ann Arbor is a great example of a similarly sized city that is wonderful to visit, and it's only an hour away.  I would almost give an eyetooth to live there.  Our family heads to the downtown area periodically for the day just to feel better.  It has a vibrant farmer's market, a variety of restaurants, CSA's, food co-ops, numerous litle tea and coffee shops, and last but not least, urban chickens are legal there.  You could say Ann Arbor got the foodie formula right. 
This past summer the Windsor Downtown Farmers' Market committee ran into roadblocks with Council when they tried to secure a long term lease on their location.  This grassroots initiative was one of Downtown's first unmitigated success stories.  But instead of wholeheartedly embracing the idea and running with it, our Council tried to convince them to move to a different location.  I'm not privy to the discussions that went on, so I don't want to read too much into this, other than to point out that Council does not appear (to the public, at least) to champion the market 100%.

As regards urban chickens, it's important to note what was NOT argued when Council voted to indefinitely defer the matter:  They did NOT say they would prefer to be considering local/urban/organic food initiatives that would directly benefit a greater number of people.  They did NOT say they thought poverty in our city could be more effectively addressed via a different strategy.  They did NOT contact the urban chicken committee to say that they would prefer to start this public discussion with a bigger picture strategy.

No, they did not do any of the above.  By deferring the issue in a meeting without public input, they sent a clear message that it's not important enough to them.  End of story.

I find this puzzling.  On the one hand our mayor goes overseas, bringing back Samsung and a huge green energy contract.  On the other hand, an environmentally-minded grassroots residents' initiative is too low on the priority list.  Does that make sense to you?  Just because it doesn't involve billions of dollars, it's not important?  Shouldn't a green energy strategy for the region involve not only big industrial projects that provide jobs, but also small projects that enable residents to live environmentally consciously on a day-to-day basis?

At first, I might have believed it's the fact that the issue involves urban chickens.  But the Downtown Farmers' Market ran into similar issues.  So I prefer to think the problem is more likely to be rooted in Council's priorities, and the way they deal with resident-driven ideas, rather than the idea itself.

*  Note that Cluck Windsor's online poll shows overwhelming support for backyard chickens, and very little opposition.  That seems to contradict the Councillors' statements.

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Please keep the Windsor urban chicken discussion going! We love to 'read your constructive comments.