Well, it’s finally happened. The bureaucratic crapstorm that’s been brewing for the last couple decades—ever since we decided to arm the red tape-lovin’ pencil pushers with a cushy salary and just the teensiest bit of authority—is upon us. Luckily, I outfitted my trusty red Radio Flyer wagon with a can of waterproof spray and a couple dozen bags of Cheetos, so I’m about as prepared as it’s possible to be.
Tickets for a space in Herbert—my seaworthy vessel—are going for $300 a pop. But space is limited. In the interest of making sure nothing goes extinct, I’ve grabbed a pair each of pink flamingoes, garden gnomes, bike arches, houses painted unusual colors, mailboxes painted with anything other than butterflies and flowers, transients—basically anything the aforementioned pencil pushers might attempt to destroy in their mad overreaching grab for power.
If all of this—the flood, the flamingoes, the Cheetos—confuses you, then hold on to your pedal pushers, because the explanation doesn’t make any more sense than my rambling. The city of San Luis Obispo has decided to crack down on a bicycle arch a resident built in his front yard. Officials are insisting that the work of art now needs to be submitted for review for the city to decide whether or not to issue a permit for it. Which basically means they’re wasting their time and therefore your money by regulating what you put in your yard. The obvious question being: If we open the floodgate for that kind of overregulation, where does it end?
That pink flamingo that’s been strutting across your lawn for the past 30 years? That’ll cost you 10 shillings in permitting and inspection fees. And the family of garden gnomes who’ve been creeping out your neighbors since you moved in? You might want to tell Mr. and Mrs. Gnome to invest in birth control, ‘cause it’s going to cost you 12 ounces of silver. Per gnome.
And the bike arch in question is considerably less offensive than a pervy little garden gnome. It’s a beautiful tribute to the joy and whimsy of bicycle riding, and it’s displayed on private property. And the fact that it didn’t cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in public art funds? Well that’s just gravy. Or at least it should be. But instead the city seems hell-bent on turning every little opportunity for self-expression into an excuse to raid your wallet, to say nothing of what living in a city where a rainbow bicycle arch is subject to condemnation does to your soul.
Hey, San Luis Obispo Fascists, I was planning on wearing kind of a kooky hat next Tuesday; what’s that gonna cost me? If I hum as I stroll through a farmer’s market, are you going to cite me for troubadouring without a license?
The fundamental question this raises is whose city is this? Does San Luis Obispo belong to we, the people, or does it belong to the busybody bureaucrats who get paid too much to help run it? If I want to use my own time and resources beautifying my hometown, shouldn’t I be applauded rather than punished? Last I checked, the artist’s lawn wasn’t littered with red plastic cups and beer pong paraphernalia, which automatically makes it better than many of the houses downtown.
And if you’re really going to start beating the drums of regulation, how is it that the toxic manatee pheromones Abercrombie & Fitch pumps into the air above downtown sidewalks somehow fail to raise a flag? And the 3-foot-wide Double D’s attached to a pouty underfed Victoria’s Secret model are inoffensive? But god help you if you even think about putting up a family-friendly bicycle arch in front of your house. Is it the fact that the artwork is original that the city finds so offensive? Or the fact that it’s not tied into any capitalistic money-making scheme? It seems like the city’s willing to tolerate just about anything—again, cleavage the size of your car and a toxic perfume storm—so long as you’re trying to peddle something to people.
Now, you might argue that the visionaries behind the bicycle arch were in fact trying to peddle something—a sense of community, appreciation for a mode of transportation that’s environmentally friendly and good for you, childlike delight at the unexpected sight of a half-dozen bicycles rearing into the heavens.
But, after this, how many people are going to feel encouraged to flex their creative muscles? To gift their city with something beautiful or provocative or interesting? It’s great to live in a city that has thousands of dollars to dole out for public art projects, but isn’t it even better to live in a city where people spontaneously create such pieces on their own because they feel compelled to do so?
Maybe that is, in fact, the problem. If a citizen or small group of citizens can produce something meaningful without spending thousands of dollars and hiring a review committee to spend six months shuffling through the applicants, then maybe the city’s got it backward? Maybe we don’t need them to make our city beautiful? Maybe they’re so busy running around chasing the title of Friendliest City that they’ve forgotten those of us who actually live here, who were happy passing by that bike arch. If the bureaucrats in question can’t look at this situation and recognize that they have become a tool of process and paperwork rather than the other way around, then they’re so wrapped in their own red tape that they’ve lost sight of why they were hired in the first place. ∆
Shredder likes bicycles and rainbows and flamingoes. Send gnomes to firstname.lastname@example.org.