John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Also banned recently: Porch sofas in Durham, North Carolina; public profanity near Boston; a British man who drinks mouthwash.
Welcome back to our weekly look at what's been outlawed in cities across the world (last week's edition here):
NATIVITY SCENES, IN SANTA MONICA
Rivaling factions in this beachy burg have wound up ruining Christmas for everyone. Because Christians, atheists and the local government couldn't agree on how to decorate Palisades Park in December – a tradition that's been going on for six decades – the city council simply banned nativity scenes altogether. The humbuggish swat came after atheists won lottery spots last year for most of the nativity scenes, and snowed the park with signs like “Happy Solstice!” and this poke-in-the-eye to believers: “'Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies' - Thomas Jefferson.” (Monticello scholars, by the way, have yet to locate that line in any of Jefferson's letters.) The council worried that if they let the holiday tradition continue people might erect crazier and crazier displays, including “a gigantic sign refuting the events of the holocaust or a picture of Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface standing over the wee baby Jesus.”
PORCH SOFAS, IN DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
The Durham city council has just outlawed “one of the great Southern comforts known to mankind,” according to Barry Saunders of the News Observer. For time eternal, making the world your oyster by moving the living room outdoors has reigned as one of the South's greatest design achievements. But NIMBYs have struck a decisive blow against the practice by flooding Durham's city hall with so many complaints about their neighbors' moss-covered chesterfields that the government now considers porch sofas “almost an epidemic.” Under the new regulation, sitting on a rocking chair, hammock or beer-filled cooler is still allowed, but anyone who brings anything upholstered into the light of day, including the scavenged back seat of a T-Bird, faces a fine. Carps Saunders: "Just as when Sherman passed through here on his gloriously destructive march to the sea, another cherished Southern tradition is falling to another Northern movement."
MOUTHWASH-SWILLING HOMELESS MAN, IN THE U.K.
The council in Plymouth, located on the southwest tip of England, has banned a man who's been a "thorn in the side" in the city ever since he took up chugging mouthwash in public a year ago. Robert Piskadlo has been “responsible for a wave of offending, including assault, theft and being drunk and disorderly,” reports the Plymouth Herald. When he can't find mouthwash, he allegedly drinks “white spirits,” a solvent used in painting. Piskadlo, who didn't attend his banning proceedings, is forbidden from having open bottles of mouthwash for the next four years.
SWEARING IN PUBLIC, IN MIDDLEBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS
The residents of this New England town might all start sounding like a bunch of ding-dong-diddly Ned Flanderses under a new prohibition against public swearing. Residents of the famed home of General Tom Thumb, located about 40 miles south of Boston, have long suffered auditory offense when walking by groups of loitering teenagers in public parks and downtown. “They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate,” one woman complained during a town meeting. The solution, Middleborough's gentility decided, is to lay a $20 fine on people who uses “profane or obscene language” as per state law, although a full list of no-no words has yet to surface. The new ordinance updates old Massachusetts laws against cursing at sporting events and denying the existence of God.
Photo of a nativity scene by Oscar Llerena.