Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Alongside the right to free speech and the right to exercise one’s religion, should law establish the “right to dry”? Environmentalists and libertarian activists are taking aim at community rules, covenants, and land use laws that prohibit the drying of laundry on clotheslines. Here’s the website of an advocacy group that supports the “right to dry” movement, including links to state and local laws that enshrine the right to air one’s undies. The movement touts the environmental and energy-saving benefits of line-drying, and has recently generated sarcasm on NPR and media vignettes from Oregon to Ontario.
Opponents of clotheslines argue that it depresses property values –- always the fallback argument to justify rules that restrain one’s neighbor. In certain circumstances, this may indeed be true. But just as strong is a psychological reason that’s the flip-side of the reason that so many citizens avoid riding the bus: Drying clothes outside identifies one as poor or “low class,” which bothers many people, including some neighbors. There is also the almost-fundamental human desire to be nosy into one’s neighbor’s life, and to clamp down on anything that might be perceived as harming one’s enjoyment of property.