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While urban planning scholars and public policymakers debate heatedly about “planned shrinkage” versus other redevelopment strategies, Portlanders have found their own solution to the vacant land debacle: Chickens.
A common ideology is to tear down empty houses, which sometimes attract vagrants, and to redirect the remaining plot to urban farming. It's an ideology, because in reality, it's just not happening all that much.
Some residents from the always unique Portland, Ore., support a psuedo-urban farm for its senior chicken population. The chickens are going into retirement homes, where they can live out their feathered lives without the worry of being consumed for food.
At first blush, these properties might seem like a ludicrous PETA utopia, but it does put otherwise unused land to work and provides an environmentally conscious solution for elderly chickens — two birds with one home, eh?
There is a solution here: Tear down vacant homes across America and turn the land into urban farms.
According to Wayne Geiger, owner of the Lighthouse Animal Sanctuary in Oregon, retired chicken housing must prevent overpopulation, cockfights and predator attacks.
Peter Porath, who owns a 5-acre farm in Estacada, “rehomes” 1,000 to 2,000 fowls a year.
“I would say I’m a halfway house for chickens on the move,” he said.
The current number of Portland homeowners with special permits to own more than the three-chicken-limit has risen to 525 from the 20 that had permits in 2000.
Beginning in 2003, Portland started hosting an annual Tour de Coop, which showcases chickens living in the highest caliber of bird lodgings constructed by their owners (pictured right).
Yes, its date does coincide with the Tour de France.
Whether they realize it or not, the recreational chicken owners in Oregon are creating a subculture, albeit niche, where chickens are viewed as domestic pets.
“We name them and we hold them,” Russ Finley said. “I know it sounds of crazy but we kiss them.”
The chicken retirement phenomenon in Oregon presents a unique approach to urban farming, one that appeals to the lifestyle of its people.
Perhaps what the citizens of Portland are doing with their birds should serve as an example for other cities in dealing with their own urban redevelopment: Do what works for you.