‘To Get to the Other Side’


When I was growing up a lame riddle often repeated was: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” Looking back on it, I can see the question and answer are just kind of daffy, but also hear a little bit of a Merrimack Valley version of the Zen mind-bender: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This is all to say that chickens are so familiar in our culture that it’s easy not to think of them, or at least the actual animals that produce eggs for the Owl Diner and meat parts for the packages at Market Basket. In the mid-1950s, when my family moved from Centralville, Orleans Street, to the Dracut frontier way down at the woodsy foot of Hildreth Street in ye olde New Boston Village, some of our neighbors were small-scale farmers (Fournier, Shaw) and a couple of others raised chickens in backyard coops. For a long time the Cotes lived in a semi-finished cellar while they saved money to eventually build a handsome two-level Cape-style house on top. They had hens in the backyard. I hadn’t thought about these close encounters with chickens for a while, but the subject has come up in the city. For decades, one of my uncles raised pigeons in a coop behind his house in Centralville. I was fascinated by the birds and never thought it was strange that they were flying around the yard and living in the small structure out back.

I don’t have a firm opinion on how the city should regulate live chickens. More information is due from various city departments and officials. That’s the way it should be handled. Let’s get the best information available. Stepping back from the particulars, I am interested in the process of petitioning the City Council for action on this issue. This public conversation seems to be of a piece with an increased level of civic activism in the community. That’s a good thing. I want to hear from the other 15 people who showed up to speak at the subcommittee meeting before time ran out this past Tuesday—the meeting will be reconvened soon. This feels like it is part of the larger community gardening movement in the city, part of the discussion about sustainability, part of making accommodations in a one-time factory city where people are customizing the urban lifestyle, part of an adjustment  in a place with thousands of people who have come here from more rural environs not unlike the earlier waves of immigrants. Those small farmers, home gardeners, and poultry-raisers in Dracut included Greek, French-Canadian, and Polish families whose forbears had come to Lowell and Greater Lowell in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their Yankee neighbors had been on the ground since the mid-1600s. And Lowell has another kind of newcomer, the urban homesteader type who is looking for a distinctive Green-tinted, small-scale urban experience with the benefits of a lively culture and pluralistic population.

I think we can figure out why the chicken crossed the road and learn something in the process.


4 Responses to ‘To Get to the Other Side’

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Neighborhood character “refers to the ‘look and feel of an area’, in particular a residential area.
    It is not a secret or should it be that you opposed a development of 5 houses in the Highlands and Belvedere opposed 5 houses in their neighborhood . Neighborhood character is important to you and your neighbors and many of your neighbors in the surrounding area want the same for themselves. Many feel the ordinance would not be consistant with what they feel is their “ Neighborhood Character”.

  2. DickH says:

    First of all, Paul wrote this post and he’s never been involved in either of the two proposed developments you cite.

    I certainly opposed the plans for more houses at the end of Westview Road, but that had nothing to do with “neighborhood character.” It was because it’s a dead end street that’s 1800 feet long and 18 feet wide so it’s a safety issue.

    But to your larger point, those two proposed developments would effect only the street on which they were built. The chicken ordinance would effect everyone in the city, not a single street or even a single neighborhood.

  3. Dean says:

    A few years ago I we were staying at a small hotel near the Plaka (old) section of Athens,Greece. Every morning I would hear a rooster in the distance. This was going on in the middle of this European capital of 3,000,000 plus people. They have farm animals near their downtown. I thought it was the”coolest” thing to hear a rooster in a capital city. I have near heard a rooster in Washington, D.C. or any other major city on the east coast. If you ever go to Athens listen for the rooster.

  4. resident says:

    If cities larger than Lowell can figure out regulations that allow farm animals let’s learn from them. Do people really think all their neighbors will suddenly want to raise chickens? It’s a lot of work and no roosters need apply, hens lay eggs without them.
    Did neighborhood groups vote on the subject or were the chairmen giving their own opinions? If you’re a community ‘leader’ does your comment mean more than mine because you were allowed to speak first and get your name in the Sun?