Monday, April 13, 2009

Legalize it

Some of the practices and economies around town that you might regard as distinctly Detroit are also distinctly illegal. For example scrapping, trespassing, having live stock on urban farms and squatting. Instead of forcing these practices into illegality, what would be the effects of legalizing them?

Take scrapping. Scrapping is bad. Perfectly good foreclosed homes are gutted for the copper piping and other metal. Monumental churches turn into ruins because the sheeted roofs have been stolen. High-end products are reduced to nothing but their material value. But at the same time, scrapping frees up material to be put to use again. Also, scrapping provides income for the jobless. It provides more jobs, and tax income, when it feeds into the larger metal (exporting) industries. Scrapping creates an economy.

Likewise, keeping animals within the city is a (very minor) practice. Chicken on Detroit’s urban farms have become known as ‘yard birds’, to fit them within the restrictions the municipality has on urban live stock. People using the desire lines, the cut-offs that diagonally traverse the empty fields in Detroit’s grid, are technically trespassing. When people just leave after their house got foreclosed by the bank or the municipality, they are squatting their own home.

Point is: scrapping, trespassing, squatting and having live stock is very much a practice. If nothing more, you want to acknowledge that it is happening. You might want to consider it is generating value of some sort to someone. And finally, you might want to see it as a possibility to build upon, by legalizing the practice.

By acknowledging this practice you give it a context, instead of either pretending it does not happen or simply condoning it. For all of these practices, you could assess its negative and positive effects. Draw it into a larger sphere of morality. Insert it into a larger body of social and political acceptable conduct, as it is ultimately defined in the law. Finally, you could think about regulating them.

Very much like the way soft drugs and squatting has been legalized in the Netherlands. It is regulated, it has been made conditional, and there has been a trade-off between rights and duties. It is legal to squat, if the building has been empty for a year, the owner has no clear intentions for use, and it alleviates the housing shortage. It is legal to grow marijuana, as long as it is produced in very low quantities and on a non-commercial basis.

Try to think beyond the cultural and practical constraints (to have a law is something, to enforce it is something else); where could the legalization of such distinct Detroit practices lead? And would this line of thinking even open up new ways to look at and deal with other highly negative urban practices, like arson and crack houses?

1 comment:

Marc C. said...

Interesting take. For reference sake, though having chickens in the city is illegal due to Detroit Law, it is superceded by the State Law and the 2000 Farm Bill stating every landowner has the right to farm and no municipality can take away that right, including the keeping of chickens...

I get that scrapping creates jobs per se, but what happens when a company comes along and hires a bunch of people from the burbs to come in. There could be some serious issues there. The people who are scrapping are those who cannot get jobs, aren't educated, or do not desire a job. They are members of the informal economy. To formalize that economy is to remove the job they already have and give it to the formalized workers of the suburbs. I can see headlines already "Suburbs Rape Detroit."

On the other hand, I can see this going the route of the "trash-out" where banks hire companies to strip their houses for them because they realize the material value has exceeded the perceived value of the house. But this doesn't require legalization but corporation.

Different thinking though, nice.