Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Squat

“People can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world." -- Joe Strummer

Today's New York Times has an article about Britain's problem with squatters (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). I'm resisting the urge to put scare quotes around the world problem, because I do have to sympathize with someone who goes away on vacation and comes back to find that someone has taken over his house, and the owner can't get it back for several months.

That said, when people need places to live, and houses have been abandoned, a certain solution seems pretty obvious.

And I must say, I love this story:

Eighteen months ago, [Keithy Robin, an artist and builder who volunteers at the Advisory Service for Squatters,] and a group of environmental campaigners took over a derelict one-acre site in Sipson, a village near Heathrow Airport, that had been zoned for agricultural use but was being used illegally as an auto-wrecking site.

The group hauled out 30 tons of car parts and contaminated soil and began growing vegetables that it shared with the community. The group restored crumbling greenhouses, generated electricity via newly installed solar panels, set up art classes and campaigned against the proposed third runway at Heathrow, which would have destroyed Sipson. Mr. Robin put up a tent and moved in.

The site’s owners, who have been repeatedly fined for various land-use violations, are suing to get the property back, but members of the surrounding community prefer the squatters. The police say crime in the area has declined by 50 percent since the group moved in.

“The environment there is now clean, and the neighbors, including a day nursery for youngsters, are most grateful,” Linda McCutcheon, chairwoman of the local residents’ group, wrote recently in a letter supporting the squatters’ case.

DIY justice -- poetic and otherwise.