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That creates one big green pickle for their city council member, Sheffie Kadane, with whom I spoke in the week before the meeting. Kadane has been through tough fights before in his district over various kinds of zoning and neighborhood preservation proposals. The difference, he told me, is that the city has protocols and policies for those—ways to define the affected neighborhood, a system for polling people. And officeholders have at least a rough political rule of thumb for what constitutes sufficient support.
"Here's the problem with that particular garden," Kadane told me. "That garden is on city property. It's the park department's property, and they do not have policy yet. They've got to come up with policy before they put anything on it. Then they would go to the community to get their input."
Kadane made it plain to me that he was not going to support the Maplewood site if significant opposition materialized at the meeting I subsequently attended. Callahan, the lawyer, said somewhat proudly at the meeting that he had been meeting with Kadane. Obviously Kadane had told Callahan the same thing he told me, and Callahan took it as instructions. There was more than enough opposition at the meeting to let Kadane off the hook.
The city, meanwhile, is in the process of devising the necessary policies. But at the same time—and this is why I say I was only somewhat partially wrong before—City Hall continues to string along the people who want to create community gardens on city land. An employee of the Park and Recreation Department spoke at the meeting to tell the crowd that his department is "neutral" right now on community gardens, but will hold a more official community meeting on this next month.
Meeting about what? It can't be done.
City Hall knows it can't be done under existing circumstances. So why not be straight with people and just tell them—no community gardens on city land until further notice?
Here is where it all comes out at the bottom of the page. Nothing is worth more to the city than cohesive neighborhoods whose occupants feel deeply invested, spiritually as well as financially, in their own little neck of the woods. This one, Maplewood, comes across as just that type of place. It would be a huge mistake to treat this neighborhood poorly and risk running people off.
But the people behind the proposed garden, from organic gardening expert Howard Garrett to neighborhood activist Kimberly Haley-Coleman, are serious thinkers and opinion-makers, wedded to a fundamental, burgeoning cause springing to life across our entire society.
It's bigger than food. It's a retrenchment from the techno-industrial culture of cancer and obesity-causing consumerism, a return to a deeper and broader sense of community and social connectedness.
The sourest note at the meeting at Winfrey Point was the fear and loathing expressed by Maplewood residents for strangers who might come to the garden from outside their own tiny clutch of houses. Haley-Coleman, the leading proponent, lives 1,000 feet from the site, but because her house is not in the Maplewood subdivision, she was portrayed by Callahan and others as an arrogant interloper.
Mick Weisberg, a Maplewood resident, told me that the presence of gardeners from outside the subdivision, "would completely disrupt the neighborhood and completely destroy the privacy, which is what the neighborhood is about."
And guess what? I get it. I know where that fear comes from. I live in an area that was a lot more dicey than this one when we moved in 25 years ago. We had crack addicts and whorehouses a block away. For most of recent history, the key to survival in the urban forest has been building a good fortress.
But the garden movement that people like Garrett and Haley-Coleman are espousing is all about a bigger and better sense of community—a world in which we welcome people who are not our immediate neighbors, in which we see beyond the tight little borders of own tribal enclaves.
I still don't think City Hall is up to speed on that one. And that one—the community garden movement and all that it represents—is the one that ultimately takes the day. I understand and commiserate with Maplewood, and I concede that Paul Dyer has a point. But this is a tide.
Kadane, the good council member, can only diddle people so long about this. Dyer doesn't have forever to come up with a policy. Maplewood is not the universe. Community gardeners are not terrorists. They are the future.
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