Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wobbly Throne

One of my favorite neighbors, possibly of all time, is selling his building. You may have heard me talk of him before. John is a conservative judge with a great love of small industrial towns, historic preservation, gardening, wayward dogs, and salvage art.

But now his building is for sale and his realtor has clearly advised him to boring it up -- make it look like the house of an everyman, so others can envision themselves within it. Problem is, John is no everyman. He's a singular character, though you'd never know that now, looking at his house.

Gone is the low fence made of handpainted old ladders. Erased is the mismatched patio furniture, culled from years of dumpster browsing. Removed is the handcarved tribute to our former alderman, a wretched woman to whom John took a liking after she possibly removed a zoning restriction or turned the other way to his parkway wonderland.

One of his tenants, who had been his caretaker and essentially surrogate daughter, once described herself as the 'heir to the wobbly throne.' They had a falling out soon after and unfortunately she moved on. I like to think she would have carried on the wonderfully claptrap legacy of this house. But it's not to be.

Goodbye backyard opera singing. Farewell blue mirrored ball in the garden. Godspeed cantankerous John -- painter of houses, master of the 6am conversation, guardian to lost souls, carver of discarded wood, hoarder of bricks, adjudicator on the bench and beyond. You will be missed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The sweet little Hamlin Garden will produce its last harvest this year. This little lot -- borrowed three years ago by a young guy with a great idea: Why not turn this derelict patch into a community garden? -- has been sold to a developer.

The real rub? It sold for just $23,000, something the gardeners might have pooled their own resources to buy. Heck, at that price a single gardener might have been able to gift it to the neighborhood for a good long stretch. They say the market may not rebound for 10 years or more. That's a whole lot of eggplant and zucchini.

It's tough not to see the crooked little sign, tucked next to the garden's well-used rain barrel, as a prescient tombstone. It points to one of the real paradoxes of urban agriculture: It's tough to make the most sustainable ideas sustain in the most important way -- in perpetuity.

Someday soon there will be a building on this space. Its foundation will rest in nutrient-rich soil, unharvested seeds, and a city lot that once fed its people -- and I'm talking about dozens of people who came together to turn it green. The hope is that some of those gardeners stick around for a while, preserving the memory of their shared enterprise, even as new folks dig for their keys, open their front door, then shut it again to settle in for the evening.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pop-Up Park

Your eyes do not deceive you. That's a group of outlaw gardeners, laying sod over the asphalt to turn a side street into an instant park. Woebetide the cars that neglected last night's "No Parking" signs.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were enough sod to transform every under-utilized road into safe, lush, convivial green space? Imagine what might be possible if that were the city we lived in . . .