Allow me to introduce you to my next-door neighbors. Below you see what my son Marco and I see of them when we play baseball or hockey in our side yard adjoining their property.
And here’s what we see when we play bouncy-ball on the sidewalk next to their house.
Gee, they look pretty boring, don’t they? Well, actually, they aren’t. From the shrieks of laughter we hear over there from time to time, I believe two elementary school-aged kids live there. And I think they even have a play structure in their back yard…
However, from our point of view, they’re total zeroes. They might as well be a commune of 85-year-old hermits.Imagine, if you will, if they didn’t have that fence and those hedges. From our point of view, it would be *great*. Our son Marco loves playing with kids of all ages. As of now, he has no neighborhood playmates, period. We’ve tried to reach out to kids around here, but it hasn’t worked out.
Besides having playmates, Marco would have access to a play structure. When I was a kid, other kids all over the neighborhood would come to our back yard when they saw my sister and me on our swing set because we had no fence, so they could all see us instantly. Kids love playing with each other on play structures.
But would tearing down the fence and hedges benefit our next-door neighbors? With the fence and hedges, their yard is dark. It’s claustrophobic. Without the fence, their yard would be much more bright and open.
In addition, I believe that those older kids would enjoy 3-1/2 year-old Marco as much as he would enjoy them, maybe even more. Marco’s 9-, 11-, and 13-year-old cousins are crazy about him. Age-matching for play is way overrated. At any rate, they don’t have to be the world’s best bosom-buddies – they would just hang out together and play.
OK, OK, so what about privacy? What about it? Are these folks sunbathing nude in their back yard? Having wild sex? Committing heinous murders? I don’t think so. Neither are we.
So what about this privacy thing? In my opinion, the “benefits” of privacy are wayyyy over-estimated relative to the costs of shutting others out. The members of the N Street co-housing community, which I wrote about recently, have a very rich community life due in part to the lack of fences there.
So, should we blame the architects and builders and city planners? Well, yes, but that’s not going to get us anywhere. We need to look long and hard at the fences we have around our yards today and start talking to our neighbors about them. Then, we need to tear them down. That’s what some Berkeley, CA residents have done, and they’re very happy with the results.
You may hesitate to tear them down because you’re worried that you may not like your back yard after a few months. Or, you may worry that tearing down fences will decrease the resale value of your home. If these are concerns for you, you can preserve the wood from the fence so you can re-install it later. That’s what the folks at N Street have done, and they’ve never reinstalled one board. The wood just lies there.
Imagine how much more fun your kids and your neighbors’ kids would have if nobody had fences separating your houses.
Then, do something about it! Unfortunately, we’re renters and our lease runs out in a few months, so I’ll have to wait until our next house – one we own, I hope – to start tearing down those fences.