Although I would consider myself to be a communitarian in my political views, I am enough of a libertarian to disdain attempts to control some forms of human behavior, especially the totalitarian efforts for which exclusive neighborhoods are known: dictating the color of Christmas lights or limiting the number and kind of vehicles that may be parked in a driveway.
Having once worked in the corporate identity department of FedEx, I can also attest to the difficulty of securing signage with correct company colors amidst persistent efforts of many landlords to create commercial zones that are as colorful as a gray and cream-hued, Depression-era photograph. If America is indeed the land of the free, then a mans home or business ought to be his castle, and unless the house or yard or enterprise constitutes some kind of safety hazard to others, he should be allowed to indulge in all the bad taste he wishes.
But a recent trip to my hometown for a high school reunion has caused me to wonder whether the neighborhood nazis and architecture arbiters I have mocked for years, have motives more legitimate than a consummate confidence in their own superior sense of style.
I moved to Memphis in 1972, having been born and reared in Daytona Beach, Florida. Daytona is known for its wide beaches where cars cruise the hard-packed sand between the gently crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean and row upon row of oil-slathered sunbathers. My memories of growing up in walking distance of The Worlds Most Famous Beach are fond: days of near constant sunshine punctuated by afternoon thunderstorms, brightly colored plastic pails and shovels purchased at the five-and-dime, Christmas mornings too warm to wear the new sweater from Santa, and of course, tourists--the boom and bane of every locals existence.
What I dont remember are the seedy bars, tacky souvenir emporiums, garish pawn shops, and the neon shrouded tattoo parlors which now seem to occupy every square foot of commercial space within a beach balls throw of the sand. This lack of zoning and architectural codes in much of my hometown has created an almost surreal experience where once charming and quaint edifices that hosted banks and boutiques now boast of two-for-one body piercing specials. At times on my recent sojourn, I did not recognize the once familiar haunts of my childhood.
I was pleased then, to read that a number of Daytonans who apparently share my dismay at the current face of my hometown, are now attempting to prohibit certain kinds of businesses in areas targeted for redevelopment.
However, business owners eyeing commercial space in these enterprise zones are asking why it is more noble to sell watches in a jewelry store than a pawn shop, and whether a guy who makes charcoal sketches of strolling tourists is any more an artist than the guy who decorates proffered body parts with a needle. Good questions, both, and they have me wondering about the proper balance between individual and collective rights.
This is not just an exercise in nostalgia by a person who is clinging tightly to her childhood as she stares fifty in the face. I am merely wondering what proscriptions are legitimate in controlling legal enterprises that may cross our personal taste threshold. And what those limits mean for the rights of citizens to freely pursue the happiness guaranteed in our constitution.
A local example exists in the brouhaha over closing Christals Cordova store, where opponents of the sex shop insist it is a clear case of community standards being violated. But community standards becomes problematic in this instance when one realizes that the decision of Christals owners to open a store in Cordova was almost certainly based on zip code data collected in its other stores, making any casual observer wonder why Cordovans wouldnt want a place they obviously patronize to be closer to their own community?
And why it is OK to sell such obscene merchandise in one area of town and not in another? Dont the neighborhoods around Parkway Village and Raleigh, where Christals operates its other stores, deserve to be protected from this pernicious pox on the polity, too? Returning to the tattoo parlors for a moment, is it the province of zoning boards to restrict the commercial activities of citizens who are engaging in legal, but perhaps unsavory enterprises? Unsavory at least, by the standards of a handful of people who consider themselves protectors of the public good?
I am part of the generation that eschewed judgment of others based on appearance, created music obsessed with promoting freedom and tolerance, and hurled the epithet fascist at any who attempted to curb our right to express ourselves.
I dont have the answer to the question of where the rights of the individual end and the rights of the community begin, but I do know that Daytona Beach is not a better place for having provided no curbs on the kinds of businesses that have been allowed to dominate the streetscape.