The Symbolism in Julie's Oak Park Garden


Julie's Garden
I’ve been reading a lot about the Michigan woman, Julie Bass, whose front yard vegetable garden has got her in big trouble with the Oak Park planning authorities. I wondered why this little story inspired such strong emotions in me and apparently many others who’ve been commenting on Julie’s blog (it was also the most popular post on Grist and Treehugger yesterday). It’s just a modest little garden, after all. My hunch is that the story has taken off because it represents something bigger: it symbolizes the general anxiety and frustration that people are experiencing trying to bring a better world into being.

First, the story comes from Michigan, the only state in the country that lost population in the recent census. Michigan was going through a recession long before the big one hit –the cloud of economic malaise that’s settled there seems like a part of the scenery now. Hell, it’s why I left the state six years ago. I’ve continued to apply for the scant positions that attract young, forward-thinking professionals but on the whole, the climate there seems stuck in old models of doing (perfectly illustrated by Planner Kevin Rulkowski’s inane comments). But then there are folks around the state like Julie Bass who decide break through the malaise by starting something truly community-oriented. The fact that she got slapped down for doing something so clearly in line with “the spirit of the times” makes one white-hot angry. At the same time, I’m not particularly surprised that a city in Michigan would give a backward bonehead like Rulkowski control over an office as important as planning.

Second, the attention given to lawns is an interesting one. There is perhaps nothing more symbolic of the “suburbs” than a lawn. Mess with the sacred position of the lawn, it would seem, and you mess with the very rationale for “the suburbs” as an idea. Methinks Rulkowski is fighting some subconscious fear of losing his way of life, being cast back into the gritty city or the scary wilderness. Perhaps on some level they know that most suburbs (as we typically think of them), in a post-oil world, will be dead zones. If he can wrestle the garden from Julie, he can hold onto his fantasy of the suburbs as utopia. It’s a losing battle, dude.

And here you can sign a petition telling him so.