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Posts Tagged ‘squatter’

As I noted the other day, the approach to saving the Harlem home of Langston Hughes is online fund-raising.

Meanwhile in France, the home of James Baldwin may be saved by a squatter and a quirky French law.

Shannon Cain writes at LitHub.com, “To clean the floor of James Baldwin’s guest room would take 32 disposable cleaning wipes. I figured this out on my hands and knees, estimating the square footage of the terra cotta tile surface. There were 40 wipes in the package. If I used one wipe per roughly two square feet, I’d have enough. I was camping here without running water or electricity, but damned if I was going to live inside a dusty mess.

“Four days earlier, struggling under the weight of a camping backpack laden with supplies, a duffel of linens, bag of books and a deluxe inflatable bed, I’d pushed aside the unlocked wire barrier of the ten-acre property and entered the 17th-century stone house, illegally.

“It wasn’t hard to do; the door had been busted off its frame long before I arrived and the place was wide open. I was sweating, exhausted and elated; I’d spent the previous six hours traveling by trains and buses from Paris, stressing hard about this moment, worried I’d be detected. …

“I needed to establish my squatters’ rights, which according to French law would be mine after 48 hours. The cancelled postage on the postcard I was about to send to myself would serve as one of these proofs. … To send a letter, one addresses it to the Ancienne Maison Baldwin, chemin du Pilon, St. Paul de Vence 06570. It seems the post office, at least, remembers James Baldwin. …

“The squatter’s law in France is meant to dissuade land speculation and absentee ownership. It is perhaps one of the purest manifestations of socialism. For seven years, the real estate developer that owns the Baldwin house has let this historic structure and its magnificent gardens go to seed. In the meantime, they’ve been busy with other projects, including the construction of an enormous American-style shopping center in Nice, all superstores and parking lots, reputedly built within a flood plain.

“In my research over the last months I have heard nothing but disdain and outright hatred for this corporation among the local people. ‘He’s a bandit, that one,’ muttered a local business owner.”

Read the whole crazy adventure and how Cain outfoxes the “bandit,” here.

Photo: Shannon Cain
Former home of writer James Baldwin on the French Côte d’Azur.

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Not sure how I learned about this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but I knew right away it would be good for the blog. It seems that enterprising neighbors of some vacant urban land started a garden on it 35 years ago, always wondering what would happen if the owners ever turned up.

Reporter Paul Hampel writes, “Joe Spears was ready to give up the farm. He had no legal claim to the plot of land in Kinloch, after all. Spears was just one of several dozen people who, without any official clearance, had been planting and harvesting greens, okra, melons, beans, tomatoes and peppers for the past 35 years on about nine vacant acres abutting North Hanley Road.

“When an executive from one of the largest construction firms in the Midwest approached the amateur farmers in the fields last fall, it looked like a good thing was coming to an end.

“ ‘We were never trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,’ Spears, 70, of Rock Hill, said … ‘It wasn’t our property. And it wouldn’t be right for us to make a scene when the rightful owners told us to move on.’

“The rightful owner, Clayco Inc., explained that the minifarms lay in the path of the planned expansion of NorthPark Business Park, the company’s massive development … Then came a proposal that caught the farmers, including Armstead Ford, by surprise.

“ ‘Clayco offered to give us another place to farm,’ Ford, 75, of Northwoods, said. ‘I was hopeful but skeptical.’ …

“Clayco president Bob Clark allayed those concerns when he announced that the company was relocating the farmers to 8 acres in Berkeley that they had asked him for, just across North Hanley Road from the old farm.

“And the farmers won’t have to capture rain in barrels or haul in water to the new site: Clark, 56, was throwing in an irrigation system, along with a building on the property that has running water, electricity and restrooms.”

Read the rest of the story here, and check out the other photos.

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