Wednesday, February 18, 2009

chickens mark the urban/rural divide

I've been keeping my eye on the urban chickens issue in Taylor, Texas (pop ~15,500; map) as I think it provides a great example of the small-town struggles aspiring urban chicken owners face in trying to change ordinances to allow the birds.

Last June, an ordinance was passed that disallowed raising any bird in Taylor city limits. Not sure the impetus for the change last summer, but it certainly ruffled the feathers of urban chicken fans and they've been fighting with the city council for six months to get the ordinance changed.

The unspoken issue that seems to be behind most of the discussion is how folks perceive a town that allows chickens: progressive? or backsliding? For any town eager to move away from its rural past, the first thing on the checklist is to get rid of the livestock, right? So chickens fall victim in the march toward urbanization.

This urbanization quest doesn't get much air time, though. So the issues folks in Taylor have talked about centered on how many chickens on how big a lot and how to prevent some stealth factory farm from setting up operations inside city limits by exploiting the ordinance.

Yet this morning I see Philip Jankowski has addressed the urban/rural divide in an opinion piece in the Taylor Daily Press:
To me, the chicken question speaks to the state of Taylor, which is somewhere between a rural town and a suburb of Austin. It was inevitable that somewhere along the way those looking toward Round Rock were going to collide with those looking toward Thrall. It just so happened that chickens were roosting where those folks collided.

Which way to take the town will not be up to me. Which is a good thing, from what I hear. Since I wrote my pro-Trans-Texas Corridor column many have decided I would like to pave all the farmland and replace Main Street with a 16-lane privately owned toll way.

It will be up to those council members, who I imagine are not as enthusiastic as me about asphalt. They strike the balance between old and new. It is a hard tightrope to walk, and I commend them for the job they do.

The Taylor City Council is not alone in their surprise at how much time "the urban chicken issue" takes up on their agendas. Many other councils are finding the urban chicken debate is sparking folks to question the identity of their towns and where they are on the path to progress.

Let's keep this in mind as we seek to change the law to allow urban chickens. Perhaps if we mind the strong feelings that the idea of chickens stirs up, we'll have better success in convincing the minds that urban chickens are a sign of progress, no matter how big or small our town.

UPDATE: I saw a wire go out with news that the Taylor City Council has legalized urban chickens, but I can't find the source (yet). Fingers crossed!

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