What makes a family in the heart of Happy Valley?
Is it mom, dad and a Chevy Suburban full of children? Is it an average of 3.47 persons per household as figured by the U.S. Census? Are DINKS (double income, no kids) families?Provo city planners are up a family tree trying to redefine society's fundamental social unit. This could be a dangerous thing in a town where families are considered sacred and the neighboring municipality calls itself "Family City USA."
The planners are looking at city zoning laws. They want to clarify how many people should be allowed to live under one roof.
Actually, city officials are worried about family members getting under each other's skin. Medically speaking, that is. Overcrowding can compromise health, safety and welfare, they say.
Provo currently defines a family as: one person living alone; or two or more persons all related by blood within five degrees of consanguinity; by marriage or adoption; or two or three related or unrelated persons living and cooking together.
Consanguinity? What's consanguinity? And five degrees of it, no less. Might as well be Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, that equally hard to follow college fad game in which players try to find cryptic links to actor Kevin Bacon.
Mike Hyde, assistant community development director, had never heard of the word until moving to Provo a year ago. And he's worked in planning and zoning for 18 years.
"Consanguinity is a term that is confusing enough that were trying to delete it from the ordinance," he said. "No one really knows what it means."
Simply put, it means blood relationship. In terms of Provo's zoning law, anyone remotely related to the owner of a house can live there. To wit, the five degrees of consanguinity: First degree: Parents and children of the owner.
Second degree: Grandparents, grandchildren, brothers and sister of the owner.
Third degree: Uncles, aunts, nephews nieces, and great-grandparents of the owner.
Fourth degree: First cousins, great uncles and great aunts and great-great grandparents of the owner.
Fifth degree: Children of a cousin (first cousins once removed), great-great uncles, great-great aunts, and the children of a great uncle or great aunt of the owner.
Whew! Try explaining to someone who complains about the neighbors having too many occupants in a two-bedroom duplex that as long as they're within the five degrees of consanguinity that they can have as many people living there as they want.
Hyde said that's one of the reasons planners want to change the 24-year-old ordinance. That and the likelihood some Provo homes are overcrowded to the point of being a health hazard. "It's a pretty far-flung relationship when you get to the fifth degree," he said.
A provision in the current law defining a family as two or three related or unrelated people living and cooking together is almost as puzzling.
Why not two or three people living and watching TV together? Or doing laundry together? So when college roommates have Family Home Evening on Mondays, are they really a family even though they're not related? What if one goes for a pizza and another cooks dinner only for herself, are they still a family?
Sometimes such ordinances have included living, cooking and sleeping together, Hyde said.
Provo's new definition, though not yet fleshed out, will undoubtedly exclude such words.
Cities nationwide are grappling with what constitutes a family, Hyde said. Some narrowly define the word while others use the federal Fair Housing Act as a guide. There are many relationships now that traditionally were not thought of as families. The definition must not discriminate against alternative or ethnic lifestyles, he said.
A housing code that defines capacity in terms of occupants per square foot would keep cities from having to get into what is and isn't a familial relationship. Maybe Provo will head that direction some day, Hyde said.
"It's a fine line that we're trying to walk here," Hyde said.
It's also a long line in a full house with one bathroom.