No, this isn’t an article on deconstructing the relationship between texts and their meaning or anything that deep. It’s about a bit of social disobedience of sorts.
Usually my featured images are only tangentially related to my posts (or sometimes not even at all). This time, however it’s the center of my post. Hopefully your browser/device is showing what I hope it to show: name a chain link fence that’s been partly torn back so that folks can get past it. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo; but basically the section behind the two posts with the chain between them has been ripped apart so that folks can walk through.
Why is even a topic of discussion? Because that opening wasn’t always there. In fact, when I first saw the fence, it wasn’t there. Now, you may say “obviously it wasn’t always there!” (sorta like if you come across a pile of ash in a stone ring you can, without further evidence presume there was once a pile of wood there.) This is the story of how fast it all happened and how I could observe it almost in real-time.
First some background. Several months ago I had agreed to give a talk at the DC SQL Server user group in DC this month; this also gave me a chance to catch up with some friends. Being the frugal sort, I found an AirBnB near the Rhode Island Metro station.
I arrived Thursday and took the Metro up to the stop. At ground level there’s a large footbridge that permits pedestrians to cross some railroad tracks. It connects to a foot/bike path on the north-west end. From here there’s an exit from the bikepath into a shopping center parking lot. If you look on maps, you can even see where this exit is. I’ve circled the exit here. This is where the photo was taken.
After crossing the bridge I discovered workers actually putting up the fence in the featured photo. This was Thursday, around 3:00 PM.
Now, knowing that the next official exit (because of other fencing, etc) was .2 miles in either direction, and because by walking through the parking lot to Rhode Island Ave was very convenient, I made a prediction that the fence wouldn’t last more than 2-3 days.
Sure enough, by the time I came back 2 hours later to take the Metro to my talk, I could already see people figuring out ways to jump the fence.
On Friday, I also headed to the Metro to go see a friend and I could see that the fence was still technically intact, but the area shown had become the de facto route over the fence.
Sure enough, Saturday afternoon when I was back in the area, 48 hours later the fence had been ripped open so that one could walk through.
My limited understanding of some European Common Law is that in some cases, if an “ancient path” exists, the landowner cannot deny access to it. For example, in New York state, if a river is navigable (and court cases have agreed that even simply using a kayak to traverse it deems it navigable) a land-owner can’t deny portage rights. So, I have to wonder if under some aspect of Common Law, the folks who destroyed the fence would be deemed to simply restoring their historical rights. Honestly, I don’t think so. But I’d call this a bit of civil disobedience (ok, not really since it’s not disobeying the state, but you get the idea.)
Now, I have no idea why the mall owners shut down (the entire place was abandoned) and put a fence around their entire parking lot. Presumably they were within their legal rights to do so (and given how litigious society can be, they perhaps felt they needed to).
But, just because they COULD do it, didn’t mean that the public would agree or support it. And they obviously didn’t. They took matters into their own hands and “fixed” the problem to their liking. Now, I can’t really condone destruction of personal property in most cases, nor do I necessarily want to promote trespass. But there’s a bit of me that thinks the property owners had this coming. They had, for years agreed to let the public use of their parking lot as a path and apparently without any notice suddenly yanked it away. So while not really an “ancient path” it was a path and it had served people for years.
I wonder how long the fence will remain there and if it’s repaired how long before it’s broken again. But alas, I won’t be around to continue watching.