From the City Hall Basement, Trying to Teach Dallas How to Plant a Garden

Been a long while since we've heard anything about Dallas City Hall's plans to grow community gardens. Every now and then the words "community garden" will show up on a Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee agenda, since it's a zoning issue (oy), but nothing concrete yet -- word is the city spent a lot of time trying to untangle community gardens from the neighborhood farmers markets issue (triple oy). But as I understand it, there could be a council committee briefing on the subject as soon as Monday; calls are into David Cossum in Sustainable Development to see what's what. (Update: Cossum says the council will be briefed on community gardens "some time in March.")

But this morning I did find one guy down in the basement of City Hall who's all for community gardens: Kevin Lefebvre in the Office of Environmental Quality. I saw his name on the Environmental Health Commission's agenda for its Monday meeting; he's scheduled to speak about a community garden symposium. I called him to ask what that's all about.

Lefebvre says it's something he's been wanting to do for a while -- a kind of how-to for people interesting in growing their own. He hopes to hold the workshop during the Farm and Flower Festival at Dallas Farmers Market in late spring. Because, he reminds, community gardens "are allowed by right as an accessory use everywhere, with possibly the exception of the Central Business District. Anyone can start one if they want." Except on city-owned property. Or where neighbors don't want them. Or or or. Which is why City Hall got involved.

Like Schutze says, "Community gardening is as potentially divisive an issue as putting halfway houses for recently released sex-offenders with substance abuse problems next to elementary schools in upscale neighborhoods." But Lefebvre says it doesn't have to be this way, honest.

"We are making progress and we want to make sure the best solutions will fit the needs of everyone," he says. "We really do want community gardens, at least in our office. They're a great way to reinvigorate and re-gentrify neighborhoods suffering from economic or other reasons, and it reforges a neighborhood's ties to itself. We have kids on couches playing video games who have no idea what their grandparents went through. If they had to fend for themselves, they'd starve to death. But when one generation can teach another how to garden, how to plant, well, that's not a political issue in our eyes. We think it's more ... how do I describe it? ... a return to a natural way of doing tings. We were hunter-gatherers, then agrarian. But what are we now? A truck-it-in generation?"