In the world of clean clothes, my how things have changed. First the pioneers hand washed clothes in streams. Then washing boards and various hand-crank devices came into vogue. Our grandparents hung their dirty, and clean, laundry out to dry in the breezes, where sun and wind were natural disinfectants.
Then came coin-op Laundromats, ushering in an era of joyful mechanization. It was possible to sip on a soda and watch all those whites spin round and round and round, while chatting with the neighbors. With the rise of shiny suburban appliance culture, everybody just had to have their very own washer and dryer, even though they'd only be used for a few hours a week at most.
How did we lose so much touch with our past that within a generation it became a social taboo to hang out a blanket to dry in the sun? While the planet reels under the threat of catastrophic global climate change, we are really going to fight over how a few clotheslines might "wreck our views? Views of what, more ticky tacky McMansions and cell towers?
As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, 60 million people now live in some 300,000 neighborhood associations that are at least partially "governed with codes of restrictive rules. Some of these rules are undoubtedly sensible (no building above the sightlines of others, you can't park your yacht in your front yard, etc). But many are draconian and harmful to the environment and quality of life.
A friend of mine was embarrassed after spending a weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz. (that posterchild for sprawling affluence), and her hosts were fined by their neighborhood association. What horrible transgression had my friend committed by not knowing the local culture? She left a beach towel hanging on a balcony to dry.
The truth is that these neighborhood codes are rarely democratic. They are cobbled together from templates by the developers, who rarely live where they build, and who are undoubtedly more interested in limiting their own liability than creating livable communities. True, the rules can usually be changed by a majority (or greater) of homeowners, but the process can be arduous and bureaucratic, and people are busy (not to mention afraid of making enemies).
Showing leadership and common sense, ten states now have laws on the books that limit the power of associations to prevent solar energy devices -- solar panels have long been plagued with the same kind of "viewshed opposition as clotheslines. Two states, Utah and Florida, expressly protect the "right to dry. Good for them!
Given the tremendous challenges facing our environment and world today, we need to rediscover some of that common sense our grandparents so prided their generation on. We need to take advantage of the free, clean energy we have at home, and reframe our mindsets as to what is attractive and desirable.
Do we want artificial, cookie-cutter bubbles with the illusion of manufactured perfection, or true patriotism, rugged individualism and community and global values? Just as Twinkies, Wonder Bread and SUVs have lost some of their social cachet as the times change, so should restrictions on drying our clothes in the open air.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.