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Officer Meyers' Vision

As the empty, miscarried topsoil bleeds down into the gutter and over the embankment onto the 405, Officer Meyers' vision becomes clearer.
The children's garden is gone. In its place is a dark patch of barren earth. Standing tall in the middle of the wreckage is a large, white sign that reads, "NO TRESPASSING" in two languages. (Yes, Officer Meyers mentioned this in my conversation with him earlier in the week. He was very proud of the fact that he made sure the signs banishing The People from the park would be in Spanish as well as English.) People walking by keep their heads down now, no one stops to smile at the thoughtfulness of children. All vestiges of their gift, and the gifts of the Earth, are gone. Plowed under by Officer Meyers' vision.

The homeless people are not gone, they still have nowhere else to go and so they have not gone. A large group of homeless men and women lined the sidewalk across the street from the garden, as they have every morning for as long as I can remember. I stopped to talk to a small group near the corner. As always, everyone was friendly and courteous to me. I asked what they thought of the mess across the street. One man gestured toward the wasted ground and said, "I think they're going to replant it. It used to be really pretty, with the flowers and stuff there. It was beautiful." He smiled fleetingly at the thought, and then shrugged it away.

Another man said, "Yeh, we used to camp there sometimes. I think that's why they did this. Because we camped there. It used to be so pretty." "Where will you go now," I asked. "Now that the garden is gone?" "Oh, we'll go somewhere," He replied. He was used to this. "We never go away, we always have to be somewhere. We'll find a place."

The world seems a little colder on the corner of 13th and Alder now. I wonder how many other places in the city are feeling the same emptiness. Officer Meyers, the man who ordered the destruction of the garden, assured me that chopping down flowers would lead to reduced crime in the area. I'm not so sure. There are some well known studies of the relationship between the guerrilla gardens of New York and the subsequent urban renewal in those areas. Researchers found that, in the hundreds of vacant lots reclaimed as common spaces by the community, a sense of renewal was born. Places in the city that had formerly been desolate, crime-infested and riddled with poverty of the spirit slowly came back to life when the people created community gardens in the deserted spaces.

These were areas the city had long since given up for dead. But the gardens brought people together, built a renewed sense of community, and created a valuable communal resource. Property values in the area began to rise as a direct result of the intangible rewards of this gift economy. Alas, that was to be the biggest problem for those who loved the gardens. With the rise in value of the area, developers began to get hungry for the once deserted spaces. Mayor Guiliani sided with them, and did what he could to wrest back the gardens. He failed to recognize the role of the gardens themselves in creating the value he sought, since they fell outside the market. Viscious court battles ensued all over the city. Sometimes, the gardeners won. Other times, the developers won.

The twist to this story is the fact that, where the developers moved in, dug up the gardens and put in condos and retail outlets, they destroyed the very value they had been seeking. The delicate bonds of community were broken, and the character of the place changed.

The moral of this story, Officer Meyers, is that value and worth, community vision and liveablity are fragile things. As fragile as the delicate tendrils of honeysuckle you tore out of the earth on 13th and Alder.
A Footnote 10.Oct.2003 10:21

CatWoman

One of Officer Meyers' main concerns about the Children's garden, when I spoke to him, was the fact that homeless people were "urinating and deficating" in the area. So I thought I would add this note of irony. After I passed by the trampled little garden, I walked down to the bus lanes where I ran into the woman who sits on the bench at 6th and Alder. I have written about her before on this site. She was banished from Tully's bathroom, even though she used to buy coffee and pastries there with her meager earnings. They banned her from using the bathroom for no other reason than her socio-economic class. She has injured her hip, and it's a very difficult walk for her to find a place willing to share their facilities with her. She was there on the bench this morning, as always. "Good morning," she smiled as I walked by. I asked her if things have changed with Tully's, do they let her use their bathroom yet? No, she said. Nothing's changed except now she buys her morning coffee across the street.

I point this out because I think it underlines the obvious. People without homes have to heed nature's call as surely as people with homes. If no public bathrooms are open to them, then they will find other places to go. Even if Officer Meyers napalms every patch of vegetation in the city where a person might find refuge, people will still be "urinating and deficating" somewhere. I suggest a simple alternative to chopping down the gardens. Either build and maintain public bathrooms in accessible locations around the city, or force downtown businesses to open their bathrooms to the public as part of the cost of doing business downtown.

New York Community Gardens 10.Oct.2003 11:02

gardener

Crime rates lowered in the areas where community gardens had grown up in New York. When the developers moved in and mowed down the gardens, the crime rates rose again. Tearing down a garden is no way to fight crime, no way to build community, and no way to ingratiate oneself with the people of this city.

public urinals 10.Oct.2003 12:57

traveler

One of my favorite things about Amsterdam are the public urinals on street corners. They look almost like a phone booth, open to the air below the knee and above the shoulder (less stink). Inside is simply a large stone face to urinate against. Doesn't take up much room, offers all needed privacy... these would make a ton of sense here in Portland.

Repost 10.Oct.2003 17:17

gardener

This is what one of the people who planted the garden said in a post to another article on the same topic.

From a member of the church 10.Oct.2003 14:36

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Eric Schrepel eschrepel_at_earthlink.net


I won't dignify Skeptic's trolling remarks with a direct response, but will explain what a loss this is.

I attended First Presbyterian Church for several years, during which time the idea for the garden and its implementation took root. The concept (lost on Officer Meyers) was that a space filled with flowers and beauty was safer than dirt and trash (as supported in studies of crime rates and community gardens in NY and elsewhere). It made the walk across the 405 bridge feel safer and more welcoming to reach the other side full of flowers. It gave a lift both to the church body and to the greater community. It was in line with the church's general urban mission of making downtown safe for everyone (residents, church members, the disenfranchised).

Another of the garden's effects was in bringing people together, where older experienced gardeners taught us young folk (30s) and children a lot about transforming nothingness into beauty. Every year there were small festivals to celebrate the re-planting of the garden. In the midst of several blocks of concrete, freeways and buildings, there stood this glen of color and peace.

The fact that homeless may have enjoyed it during "off hours" is completely inconsequential. Perhaps they felt safer there than in less hospitable public spaces. If they occasionally used it for a bathroom, they seemed to do so discretely and with respect for the space, as there weren't concerns about it within the church. Certainly, church members never felt that the garden was attracting the wrong crowd--quite the opposite.

So I've left my messages with Officer Meyers and ODOT, I'll call the church to find out why there wasn't a stronger fight to stop the destruction, and maybe a letter to the editor to highlight how our "culture of fear" drives the sense out of decision-making. In the meantime, a thing of beauty is uprooted to discourage a few homeless. As in Iraq, it's easier to destroy than create.

compostable toilets 10.Oct.2003 18:14

?

I wonder if we should look into compostable toilets. Maybe neighborhoods could install some of those, especially neighborhoods with alleys. Or pay for some of those portable pottys that they use at construction sites, and pay for maintaining them, too. If the cost was split up amongst all, allowing sliding scale for lower income folks, it might be doable. The city obviously isn't going to take care of homeless people's needs. They just do a small token amount each year and claim that's enough.

Babelfish 11.Oct.2003 10:08

Bill

'' The moral of this story, Officer Meyers, is that value and worth, community vision and liveablity are fragile things. As fragile as the delicate tendrils of honeysuckle you tore out of the earth on 13th and Alder. ''

Meyers probably understands this to mean, "Good, cop. You did well."

Eric-tell us more 11.Oct.2003 12:15

J.ohn Muir

Eric. I was happy to see a posting from someone familiar with the church. Can you keep us posted on what, if anything, you hear from the children involved? How about pictures? Surely someone at the church took some. Think you can get a copy of a few? This whole thing is very distressing to me.

small community gardens 11.Oct.2003 13:36

L. Burbank

It's a shame when the monotheistic purveyors of monoculture insist that their way is the only one. These small gardens are the heart and soul, as well as the more interesting parts of the city.

Police Bureau too legalistic 11.Oct.2003 18:39

food for thought

Officer Myers destruction was the result of a police bureau that uses a legalistic approach rather than a community service approach. The latter would offer solutions for which the community provides input -- solutions that are humane and healthy rather than punitive in nature. The Bureau's approach is decided by its leaders - the police commissioner (the mayor), the police chief and the police union.

The cops can't keep watch forever... 11.Oct.2003 20:35

They've got better things to do????

Can somebody please remove the 'No Trespassing' signs, and continue to do so each time they reappear?

Big Man 13.Oct.2003 00:55

Someone

Hm, a big man isn't he? He crushed some flowers and now he can say he did good. Real good. Because...well...okay, he needed the exercise and so did some other lazy ass cops. I can see it now, "Meyers Saves City From (insert b.s. here)"