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Playing Chicken with the City… and Winning

by on September 24, 2009

There are chickens living within the city limits, and that’s weird but fine. Buffalonian Monique Watts was initially denied her attempt to keep the rather unconventional pets:

The West Side woman had to move her pet hens to Allegany County earlier this year when she learned that the City of Buffalo banned residents from keeping chickens in 2004, as a result of chicken fights and health concerns.

Undeterred, Watts stood up for every owner who isn’t breeding filthy fighting chickens. It took awhile, but she’s been rewarded for her perseverance. Her battle to keep examples of Earth’s funniest bird in her yard recently culminated in victory:

But Watts pushed back, and after months of study and lively debate among city lawmakers, the Common Council and Mayor Byron W. Brown enacted an ordinance allowing city residents such as Watts to raise chickens under strict guidelines.

It was nice of the city to give her permission to do what she wants on her private property. The convoluted fight to coop urban chickens is reminiscent of the recent struggle waged by a local couple to farm in Buffalo. Such residents face municipal obstacles that seem nearly arbitrary. While growing stuff or keeping flightless birds might seem like activities better suited to Wilson, New York than Wilson Street, that’s a personal preference.

The rural-minded aren’t demanding our help. It’s one thing if everyone else in the city, or nation, is subsidizing the cultivation stimulus-style. But anyone paying their own way should be allowed to grow what they want within reason, whether it be crops or docile animals smaller than cattle. Certainly, it is possible that such granola-style enterprises might attract drum circles, but that’s a risk we must accept if we truly tolerate personal autonomy.

Besides, authorizing mini-farm plots beats letting the city wait for homes to perhaps be built on the same ground; of course, that’s when the same city isn’t busy tearing down homes.

Similarly, what’s important about a city resident wanting to maintain a chicken stockpile is that she’s a city resident. Having someone do something weird on their property is far better than not having the property be occupied. Buffalo’s officials drag their feet on letting private citizens put the space around dwellings to use. Meanwhile, they don’t quite seem to know if they’re pro- or anti-dwelling themselves. They’re quite bossy for being so aimless.

Their philosophy should be to leave us and our ground alone. To paraphrase a rather famous opinion about the human condition, the pursuit of happiness comes from having the liberty to do what one wants with one’s life. We should be permitted to indulge in ventures that run counter to City Hall’s authoritarian planning. It’s true even if digging in the dirt or interacting with livestock for as long as the sun’s up seem like odd interests to suburbanites and city slickers.

Urban agrarianism does potentially create neighbor issues. But many of possible conflicts don’t seem either inevitable or unsolvable. A responsible landowner will maintain cleanliness. It’s the farmer, not the farm.
Plus, many other backyard objects could create strife. A stereo, tiki bar, or large dog could all serve as potential annoyances to others on the block. It’s a matter of having whatever one considers to be a good time while respecting boundaries. Basically, don’t be a jerk, and we’ll all get along fine. It’s true even if some among us engage in offbeat behavior.

And that goes both ways. The Buffalo News article notes that Watts has been generous about sharing the hens’ production with her neighbors. Bearing that in mind, if chicken-owning locals offer you free eggs, don’t ask for wings, too: poultry etiquette experts consider such a request to be uncouth.


From → Buffalo, Commentary, News

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