Keep the Tacky in Takoma

Dear Readers,

He used to be Your Gilbert’s White Knight, but he’s looking, not tarnished, but a bit too shiny these days. Doug Barry, councilmember for Ward 6, has long been one of the more sensible voices on the council and blessedly the most short winded speaker.

However, in the last few months the White Knight has been crusading for what Gilbert considers a dubious cause At the beginning of each council meetings he has conducted a series of “quizzes” aimed at highlighting code violations that the city is starting to crack down on.

The violators? You, Dear Reader, and your neighbors.

Your house and property are being watched, and if they aren’t looking properly tony, you might find one of the new “courtesy notices” hanging from your front doorknob, That is the job of at least one of our city inspectors, and if the housing code violations checked off on the “courtesy notice” are not fixed, he will follow up with a citation.

The violations are for such things as: high grass, weeds, brush, trash, debris or litter on grounds, trash container lids missing or poorly fitted, excessive storage on unenclosed porch or deck, damaged, or missing fencing, flaking or peeling exterior paint, missing or damaged gutters or down spouts, and cracked, broken, or missing window glass.

Your Gilbert remembers when this city used to be affectionately called “Tacky Park,” in honor of it’s tacky, un-gentrified inner-suburbanscape: asbestos siding, chain-link fences, scruffy lawns, “beater” cars, and a population of mixed class, economics, ethnicity, and religion.

Due to raising property values, the economic and class mix has been changing. The working class folks, and middle class teachers, artisans, low-level government and nonprofit organization staffers, and the other lower-to middle-income people who used to settle here can no longer afford it!

And who are the new people, those who can now afford to buy here? Judging from the way things are going, Your Gilbert suspects they are more concerned with property values than community values, at least the sort of community values that Takoma Park has been known for.

Is this why we’re seeing this new push to abolish tackiness? Is the city council sympathetic to this point of view? Is this why they are installing fancy Chevy-Chase-type city signage at the city’s entrances and in the neighborhoods? Are they so eager to raise the property values in order to attract even more people with fat wallets and twisted values?

If so, it is a contradiction. Even as they pass rent control laws to protect low-income tenants, and even as they decry the conversion of low-income apartment buildings to yuppified condominiums, even as they postulate that the city should have an affordable housing program for homeowners, and even as they worry that current home prices and mortgage payments would be beyond the reach of most of their current owners, they harass low income, working-class, fixed-income elderly homeowners, and long-term residents (you KNOW that’s who will be most effected here), and poke their prim noses into our personal business and our private homes.

So, COULD there be an affordable housing program for home buyers? Could the city tie the profit from home sales to the cost of living index figured from the date of the last purchase) as it did for rent increase rates? Could it deny profits to home buying speculators who sell within a year or two of purchase?

Probably not, but Your Gilbert challenges the city council and mayor – and the candidates for those offices in upcoming elections – to stop harassing the people they claim to value, and to stop wringing their hands and DO something to preserve the tacky, neighborly, affordable community that we (we who do not prize property values above all else) love!

And if Mr. Barry or a city inspector shows up on Your Gilbert’s property with a “courtesy notice” in hand, we will turn the dogs on them! We will have to borrow someone’s dogs to do so, or use cats instead, but the principle remains.


About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "Keep the Tacky in Takoma"

  1. Oh, give me a break. As one of Mr. Barry’s constituents, and one of his long-ago predecessors on the city council, I heartily say, “Put the hammer down!” We here in Doug’s Ward 6 (or “down in the holler,” as one imperious council member from another ward tellingly put it years ago) don’t reside in “Olde Takoma,” whose residents have the luxury of not worrying about bare dirt front yards, cars with flats sitting on the street for weeks on end, bottles and styrofoam containers festooning the yards, etc. Here in the real world, we appreciate the use of our tax dollars to fight the rising tide of entropy and provide strong “incentives,” where necessary, to encourage people to be good neighbors. Of all the many functions this city provides (or is supposed to) , code enforcement is one that we wholeheartedly support.
    I’m not sure what part of “tacky” you find so appealing, but I for one applaud any city effort to keep things on track. What is so wonderful about “high grass, weeds, brush, trash, debris or litter on grounds, trash container lids missing or poorly fitted, excessive storage on unenclosed porch or deck, damaged, or missing fencing, flaking or peeling exterior paint, missing or damaged gutters or down spouts, and cracked, broken, or missing window glass”? Our ward is probably the most “diverse” of any section of the city, and frankly, I say it’s insulting to suggest that we–yes, teachers, nonprofit staffers, home renovation contractors, retirees, not to mention scientists, lawyers, software engineers–should have to tolerate an arrogant indifference to the environment we live in. Be assured the vast majority of us are not recently arrived nouveau riche. We long-term residents (20 years, for me) are probably the most dismayed about having to tolerate the behavior of others who fail to live up to their neighborly obligations.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t call this “prizing home values” so much as preserving a neighborhood we can be proud of and enjoy.
    As for loosing the vicious hounds, keep in mind the fate of Michael Vick! The cat assailants would be pretty entertaining, though.

  2. Thanks for the comment! We were beginning to think everyone had fallen asleep out there.
    Like the council, you appear to have no qualms about imposing by law your values and aesthetics on your neighbors. This confirms Your Gilbert’s view that beneath the exterior of many well-meaning middle-class liberals there beats the heart of a tyrant, eager to force everyone to do what’s good for them.
    What’s next? Will the city require homeowners to paint their houses only in officially approved “tasteful” colors? Will we be required to have expresso machines in our kitchens, wine instead of beer at our parties, white holiday-season lights, and hybrids in our driveways?
    Really, what business is it of yours or the city’s that your neighbor has a cracked window pane, damaged gutter, or peeling paint? Perhaps your neighbor’s priority is to spend his money on his childrens’ college education, and there isn’t enough left over for paint.
    Perhaps your neighbor just doesn’t want to deal with painting or gutter repair right now for whatever reason. Is he not a free man, living in a free country, free to make his own decisions about his own property? How does his peeling paint or damaged gutter hurt you?
    Hmm, did you mumble something about it hurting your property values?

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