A Few Thoughts About Short Fences

blog fenceShort fences.

We’ve spent a lot more time in the city this year and I have been watching the role short fences play.

Our corner lot has a short fence around our ground level deck at the front, and along the length of our backyard. We have discovered our short fence plays the role of being an invitation rather than a barrier.

Since the snow has melted we have had many discussions over the fence. We have met new neighbours and visited with ones we have known for years. We’ve talked about dogs and kids, vacations and music, yoga and knitting. We’ve heard of neighbours moving, summer construction projects, and visits to the Saturday Market.

The short fence creates an opportunity to be neighbourly. It lets neighbours talk. It creates community.

The whole experience has left me thinking a lot about neighbourhood design, building styles, and how they affect the general well being of a community. It is a well known fact that when neighbours know neighbours that it builds strong, healthy communities. People watch out for one another and communities are safer.

We live in a neighbourhood from a different era. Houses range in age from 110 years old to brand new infill housing, but it is still the old fashioned layout of big yards, boulevards and mostly detached garages. The layout of the older properties means that neighbours have the opportunity to interact. We see each other clipping hedge, mowing the lawn, building decks, pulling weeds and shoveling snow. High maintainance yards make for lots of opportunity to see your neighbours out and about.

However the few new infill houses, even though they are in the same neighbourhood, function differently, especially the ones that  have attached garages. These are “new suburban houses” houses built in an old neighbourhood; attached garages, swaths of concrete driveway, a “low maintainance” garden (token shrub and mulch), and the compulsory prison like fences. The car disappears into the garage, with the neighbour never to be seen until the car emerges again. I can’t help but think of how damaging this design model is for a community. These styles of homes don’t allow for neighbourly interaction and fragment a community.

My short fence has left me appreciating how neighbourhoods were built in the past. They were built to create community. They were built so that neighbours would know their neighbours. Perhaps it is time for city planners to rethink how they are building current neighbourhoods. We need to bring back the front porch, bring back the low fence and eliminate the attached garage. It is time to take the streets our houses are built on and turn them back into communities.

My thoughts inspired by my short fence.

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5 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts About Short Fences

  1. As a natural recluse I’m not sure I agree 😉 to letting the neighbours monitor my every move, and yet I see your point. Really, if I want to live so I don’t see people, I get myself a farm house with acreage. Houses today are really just huge apartments, what I see here is colossal buildings trying to fill out as much area as possibly with just a token strip of grass or paving around. I’d hate to live there.

    • I am naturally an introvert, but I wonder if current construction makes us feel like our neighbours are adversaries or enemies rather than someone to pass pleasantries with or to help when needed. Are the huge buildings and fences the equivalent of a dog marking its territory? I wonder how we make the switch from seeing neighbours as a nuisance or threat, to seeing neighbours as a benefit or contribution to a community? I also suspect neighbours would very quickly stop monitoring our every move as they realize we are all pretty boring people doing pretty mundane things. On the other hand, it is pretty nice if a neighbour phones the police when they see someone breaking into your house or garage. No matter what, it is an interesting discussion in all directions.

      • It’s a fear and ego based culture now. We’re also encouraged to assert ourselves on a personal level at least, and while I do certainly not want to be under a reign of old time village tyranny “this is how we’ve always done it” etc, I also see the lack of compassion and flexibility in this new badass attitude. Equal rights has turned into “MY! privilege”

      • Isn’t it interesting how deep this conversation can go? I could write a series on society and “entitlement”.

  2. I agree with all of this! I walk my son to school through a neighbourhood in which many of the houses have high hedges, fences, and gated driveways. Today we noticed a house that had a Christmas wreath on the front door. I remarked that perhaps they had forgotten it was there because they probably always drive down the long driveway to the garage and enter the house that way. And, given the fence and gates, probably no one ever walks up to their front door.

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