Thursday, January 27, 2011

Urban chickens can lead to falling property standards

That's what at least one Windsor councillor believes.  She stated this fear at this week's council meeting, in justifying her decision not to back the formation of a working group to explore the viability of backyard hens in Windsor.

She's not alone in believing this could be a problem, so let's explore what it's about.

It's probably due to a preconceived image of chicken farmers as urban hillbillies, with ramshackle coops made of piles of junk.

That's not actually the way the vast majority of urbanites want their backyards to look.  There are many different coop designs available, and some of the higher-end ones are anything but shabby.  Take a look at this snazzy Eglu, for example:
Many of the proponents of urban hens are sophisticated, educated people, with  professional qualifications and respectable careers that make them valuable assets to the community in which they live.  They are certainly not interested in living in the squalid conditions often conjured up by urban hen opponents.

One thing pretty much everybody with an opinion on the matter seems to agree on is that only a small minority of residents are actually likely to want to own chickens.  So if a tiny number sign up,  how big of a risk can this really be?  

In my opinion, it's rather a flimsy pretext for not wanting to explore the idea in the community in a transparent an open manner, as originally recommended by the Licencing Committee

I suspect (Councillor Gignac can correct me if I'm mistaken) what she really means is that she believes scruffy backyard coops will lead to falling property prices.  In a city that is struggling with some of the lowest the house prices in the country, the last thing anybody wants is for them to fall any further.  What sane person doesn't want to live in a nice place?

But I would suggest a different angle:  house prices are falling because developers have been more interested in making their money on suburban tract housing than exploring interesting urban concepts, and now we're stuck with a glut of identical homes in identical suburbs.  

House prices also fall because of people leaving town to seek their fortunes elsewhere when they can't find work here. 

Usually it's the younger people who leave.  The effect of each individual loss is hard to notice, but collectively, over time, visible patterns emerge:  a hollowed out downtown core, and numerous identical suburban townhouses with for sale signs on their manicured postage stamp sized front lawns.  Others would list theirs on if only they believed they had a chance of getting a decent price.   Over time, this is the kind of stuff that causes people to lose pride in their neighbourhoods.  Why bother?  becomes the mantra.  

That is how property standards and prices fall.

I would love to know how many of Windsor's older residents (the demographic group that's generally the most averse to backyard hens) have adult children who have flown the coop, to use a pun, to go live in more vibrant cities.  What reasons did they give for leaving?  What percentage felt Windsor doesn't have anything for them, that the city's management is too staid?  How many of them voted in the last election?   If they didn't, how many of them shrugged their shoulders and said why bother?

Maybe people would be encouraged to stay if they felt their opinions and ideas made a difference, and if the city were less resistant to trends that make other cities more exciting to live in - urban hens being just one of many examples.  

If there was more of a local buzz about liveability, and we weren't afraid to strike committees that encouraged public debate, people might be wanting to move back to Canada's southernmost city.  Then we could see a positive impact on house prices.

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