April 29, 2007

When we think of the environment we immediately think of green, which I guess is why Europeans trade marked the colour green when applied to petrol. Pink poison looks much more palatable when it has the greenness of a rich green lawn.

We have all known men who are offended by the pink pollution when a member of the pink motoring aristocracy dares to drive down a public highway in a cute pink mobile.

Pink cars are deemed positively toxic and are even claimed to induce nausea in other road users forced to look at them. Pink cars don’t meet ‘the standard’ compared to your petrol guzzling masculine metallic shaded mustang.

Pink cars are still by and large street legal. You still have a right to drive around the streets in the US in an offensive shade of pepto bismol pink without being run off the road by the colour police.

It therefore seems bizarre that hanging out your clothes to dry on a clothesline (hardly guerilla style energy conservation) is prohibited by some Housing Owner Associations. The property gestapos can kick you out of your neighbourhood for hanging your dirty laundry in your backyard even if the temperature outside is hotter than your clothes dryer.

We are encouraged to adopt environmentally responsible practices, conserve energy and be ‘good’ citizens. Yet Housing Association committees defend this as “just and proper”. Laundry line prohibition in the US is very real.

One in five Americans belong to a Housing Association which regulate many aspects of home ownership other than private clotheslines.

You could also fall afoul of the rules if you keep a native garden which doesn’t require the use of noxious chemicals to maintain it, if it offends the aesthetic sensibilities of your neighbours keen to preserve the value and amenity of their properties.

Some covenants which are enforced by these resident elected committees ban the erection of solar apparatuses, lawn free gardens and mandate energy consumption and waste.

The message is clear. If you want to do your bit for the environment don’t wash your laundry. Or go live in a less salubrious neighbourhood so you don’t offend these high end asthetes.

If you want to use solar energy put it in an inefficient location rather than on your roof (maybe the shade), or move to a less upscale neighbourhood.

There are restrictive covenants that govern everything from the colour you choose to paint your house to the size of your garage and the affixing of political boards to your dwelling.

Suppression of political expression in America?? It seems unimaginable, except of course in ‘my neighbourhood’.

In other neighbourhoods you can paint your house an American flag if you are so inclined, which could mean you are either making a political statement and/or you just like red, white and blue with stars and stripes because they are pretty. There are other theories but we won’t go there.

This laundry line prohibition style environment has led to foreclosures and evictions by those who have flouted the rules.

It is clear that class consciousness and the preoccupation with property value is alive and well.

Its like…hey clotheslines might be okay in the midwest, but please not in Miami!!!

Many of these covenants are far from environmentally nurturing, punishing ecological responsibility whilst mandating consumption and wastage of precious resources. In some drought prone areas lawns are compulsory, along with sprinkler systems, simply because green lawns look pretty.

I remember the episode of the Pink Panther where the panther’s penchant for pink would often land him in conflict with those who didn’t share his pink global blueprint (no pun) to paint the world pink.

He had a brush (no pun) with a little chinese man wielding a blue paint brush who couldn’t keep up with the panther overpainting everything in the house with his pink paint brush. Frustrated and tired, the little man eventually succumbed to insanity and the pink panther claimed the house as his own.

Maybe there is a lesson in there, apart from the obvious fact that tastes do differ. Barbara Cartland is more likely to be able to get away with coating her mansion with a tasteful shade of coral pink than a Floridian who wanted to paint the shed that abuts their neighbour’s front garden a garish shade of pepto-bismol pink.

Residents of some HOAs are also into forcing residents to have lawns where they might even prefer pavers. You couldn’t argue with the fact that Pepto-bismol pink pavers require less water than lawn.

Paul Robbins author of a book called “Lawn People” has a bit to say about the inseparability of culture and the economy, making the statement that the meaning of our lives are inextricably bound up with the value of our homes.

It becomes apparent that there will invariably be some tension between those wanting to be seen as ‘good eco-friendly citizens’ doing the ‘right thing’ on the one hand and ‘good consumers’.

Home ownership is the most conspicuous symbol of consumption, and where property values are all important, environmental concerns risk being overshadowed by these overzealous types of laws.

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