Ice cream truck wars in the summer; urban farming fisticuffs in the fall—there's neighborhood-based trouble for every month in the Big Apple. This October, via the New York Times, we shift to crisper weather and the tale of a month-long dispute "that has turned neighbor against neighbor in Brooklyn," spawning "petitions, door-to-door campaigns and reams of fliers," as well as "shouting matches and even an intervention from a city councilman." The beef of the season in Park Slope is chicken.
Yes, all the latest animosity is over the matter of eight chickens, who've resided for 10 days now in a coop in the Warren-St. Marks Community Garden in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Park Slope, of course, is no stranger to tempest-in-a-teakettle-type animosities (remember the big drama over kids at beer gardens? Or, any number of internal and external instances with regard to the Coop which bears the neighborhood's name?) In fact, Park Slope has frequently been the epicenter of these social how-the-heck-do-we-live-together? types of storm. Never forget the gender-normalization of a child's hat, and the fury that ensued. And so it is, again.
On the pro-chicken side are the members of the community garden who purchased the chickens, who say they told residents by passing out fliers informing them they were going to get the chickens, and everyone had fair warning. On the anti-chicken (or anti-Community Garden) side are the residents—many "long entrenched in the neighborhood" writes Vivian Yee—who feel that the garden is an "exclusive club" that doesn't take into account the concerns of the neighborhood and are not, as it happens, very neighborly:
“There is a pattern here of being untruthful, not really reaching out to the neighbors, not being community-spirited; there is a history of being exclusive,” said Ahhalia Smith, the most prominent of those opposed to the chickens.
It all got heated on Sunday at a meeting that became "rancorous and sometimes profane," with scolding, finger-wagging, muttering, head-shaking, and the occasional eloquent niblet. The pro-chicken side claimed that the chickens are good for visitors to the garden and are also environmentally beneficial, eating scraps and adding to the compost pile. The anti-chicken people said that the chickens smell, attract rats and flies, might lead to lead poisoning and avian flu, and so on. (An inspector said there were no rats, and the coop is supposedly rat-proof; notwithstanding, the anti-chicken group added 160 signatures to a petition against the birds).
In the pro-chicken folks' possible favor: The chickens, which live in the summer on Governors Island but are "fostered" through the city during the fall and winter, were in fact in Park Slope last winter (on the same block but in a private yard) and did not garner any complaints. And, in fact, the garden's on private land, too, which means they legally can keep the chickens until the birds are to return to Governors Island in April. Nonetheless, not wanting to invite more chicken scratching or proverbial "clawing of the eyes out" into the community, they've agreed to put the future of the chickens to a vote, inviting residents to join the garden so that their voices might count. Can a chicken, in fact, be a good neighbor? The pro-chicken folks say yes, hoping "the chicken squabble will encourage more open relations between neighborhood and garden in the future." The jury is still out for the anti-chicken lot, but if it's any comfort to them, the majority of photo searches for "chickens" and "Park Slope" reveal an array of delicious restaurant-prepared meals (from the coop to the Food Coop!) and zero rats.
But here is a fact: Where there are chickens in Park Slope, there are feelings, not all of them warm and feathery. Which came first, however, will be debated until the end of time.