For anyone new to the subject, the topic is whether live chickens should continue to be allowed in homeowners’ back yards in the Twin Cities suburb of New Brighton. This debate has erupted over the last few years and has reached the boiling point. We have grown-up people near fisticuffs over chickens. Arguments, facts, falsehoods and opinions have been lobbed back and forth (let us imagine) from both camps.
What has become apparent to those of us who have engaged in this debate is that there seems to be an impossible, impassable divide. We cannot go back to those innocent years of the early 2000s, when no one knew there was a problem. But we must somehow arrive at a resolution to carry us forward.
The divide is basic. We have two groups of people who truly believe, at their very core, in one of two vastly different sets of ideas.
The honest and true beliefs of Group One — and this could be a majority of residents, some of whom may have never given the topic any thought previous to this moment — are as follows:
1) New Brighton is a fine suburb.
2) Chickens simply do not belong in suburbs.
3) “Chickens” are by definition “problems” — i.e., noise, smell, waste, disease, etc.
4) It is my right to decide that my neighbors may not keep chickens because I believe these things.
Well, obviously! This is the United States of America. These are the traditions of suburban life as we know it. We moved here with these expectations, and, by golly, if you think otherwise, you can just move to the country, where no one has to see that sort of thing. I’ll buy my eggs at the store, thank you very much.
Group Two includes the small number of people who already have chickens, as well as those who may want to have chickens or are just cool with the idea of neighbors with chickens. This group truly and honestly believes with equal certitude:
1) New Brighton is a fine suburb.
2) Chickens belong in suburban yards.
3) “Chickens” are by definition “assets” that require care and tending.
4) It is not my right to tell my neighbors that they may or may not have these assets, nor their right to decide this for me.
Well, no kidding! This is the United States of America. These are the long-standing traditions of this community, whether you just moved here yesterday or you’ve been here over the last 50 years as the suburbs moved in around you. Would you like some fresh eggs? (Yes, I am in Group Two.)
There are intelligent, educated, hardworking, successful, industrious, creative, beautiful, well-dressed and nice-smelling people in both of these groups, and a few real stinkers, as well. Neither side has the Absolute Truth in its pocket. Each group has its firm beliefs.
This is where we need our city government to accommodate both sets of ideas. How it does that is up for grabs.
Group One wants to ban chickens. It objects to how unpleasant and strident Group Two gets when Group One insists that Group Two people and their chickens are not welcome in this community. (Just move away, you lifelong resident!)
Group Two wants to be left in peace with chickens. It objects to those unpleasant and strident Group Ones who insist that Group Two people and their chickens are not welcome in this community.
Our City Council has attempted, over many months, to write a brand-spanking-new city ordinance to address this fine mess.
Group Twos have accepted varying degrees of proposed compromises. Group Ones have gathered more citizens with pitchforks and torches — oh, excuse me — they have “informed” more citizens to insist on a ban.
And here we are at that impasse. Discussion has come to a screeching halt because Our Mr. Mayor is tired of talking about it and finds it easiest just to ban the darn things. After all, one side is larger and louder than the other.
Because who cares about anyone else’s rights.
This is, after all, the United States of America.
Julia Yurista Stephens lives in New Brighton.