Last week's column about the loss of open spaces resulting from people building houses in the country was read by Phil Tichenor, a retired journalism teacher who lives in Brooklyn Park. He sent me an e-mail with some good information.
Since the Middle Ages, Tichenor wrote, Europeans have dealt with the same problem. They must have understood that farmland is necessary if everyone is to have enough food to eat. Nobody in Europe but farmers were allowed to build a house on productive cropland. If you worked in town, you lived in town.
Tichenor said rural villages in Europe are "compact," with city limits tightly confined and with homes fronts facing directly onto agricultural fields.
"When you look across the rolling hills of the Rhein-Pfalz area in Germany," Tichenor wrote, "you see village after village restricted in the same way. Each is a similar tight cluster, with buildings varying in age from new to several hundred years old. There is no sprawl. If you want to live in the country in most areas of France or Germany, you live in one of these compact, outlying villages."
Throughout Europe public land is highly regulated. Nobody just drives up to the Black Forest, takes his gun out of the trunk and goes hunting. In France you must be a member of a hunting club if you want to hunt.
"Such rigidity may be anathema to Minnesota hunters and fishermen," Tichenor wrote, "but Europeans have dealt with this for a much longer time and may have some instructive things to tell us."
Europeans don't have all the answers. Tichenor points to Switzerland, which has houses built on the sides of mountains.
"Near Lucerne and Interlaken there are enclaves on mountainsides so steep they are not reachable by private automobile," Tichenor wrote. "You commute by using the cog railroad or a tram car. These are marvels of civil engineering, but open to question in terms of long-rang environmental impact."
Tichenor owns a cabin on 1/3-acre with 100 feet of lake front in Aitkin County. In his area you can't plat a new lot unless you have at least 150 feet of lake front.
"That may be justified by water-protection criteria," Tichenor wrote, "but it runs counter to the principle of maximizing population density on the available land. They're not making any more lake frontage, either."
Many lake associations are opposed to planned unit developments, where people live off the lake but have common access through a single access point, such as a boat ramp.
"This is just one example," Tichenor wrote, "of how current sentiment runs against concentrating public usage, as well as residences, on minimal areas of land."
In Tichenor's comparison between Europe and America, what I find most foreboding is the European regulation of hunting. Here we can grab the gun and dog and drive to public land and spend the day hunting. We believe this will always be our right because we have Wildlife Management Areas and other public land set aside in perpetuity.
But let's not get complacent. Europeans who lived centuries ago also hunted freely. They probably never imagined that one day their great, great, great, great grandchildren wouldn't enjoy the same privilege.
VINCE MEYER, outdoors editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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