As I was walking down the street today I noticed that the fences all down the street were different colors. It reminded me of a patchwork quilt. So many browns, washed out plywood, and some worn paint. A lot of upkeep for something that breaks and wears out so easily, yet in the suburbs we value them so much.
I was musing on the idea of whether fences represented ideals in privacy or security; which is an interesting though because fences essentially offer neither. They sort of offer us an imaginary security.
Thinking back- when we first moved here I remember looking out our second story windows and wondering why we didn’t just tear the flimsy fences down and put like a communal playground there. I remember asking dad about that and he said to me, “Daniel, I am going bowling, what do you want?”
It occurred to me that when we lived in Wisconsin no one in our neighborhoods even had fences. Our houses weren’t really spaced far apart, but our yards were all connected. I think that sort of spilled over into our community because no one was really too surprised to see children running through yards or playing on play sets.
The only fences that really existed were either electric fences or big, sturdy horse pen fences. And those weren’t really to keep us out. It was to make sure the horses didn’t stampede us or escape and eat all of dads flowers.
I would think that when you are pretty far outside the city is when you’d want fences. The nearby town can’t respond super quickly to emergencies so you’d want to put as much security up as possible. But no- we weren’t too worried. We banded together as a community when something bad happened. When the corn fields caught fire (dear god I still have nightmares) the adults gathered and prepared evacuation plans if it got bad. When trees fell we had a barbecue and chainsawed them into firewood.
We weren’t particularly worried about privacy either. Even when we were playing in other peoples yards we weren’t too concerned with getting up in someones house. We knew to keep respectable distances when I was running around. All the adults knew all the kids. Everyone knew everyone.
It gets stranger the more I think about it. When I was still friends with Alex, Phil, and Sean- they frequently would just cup theirs eyes to the window instead of knocking. Fuck dude, some of my friends still do similar things.
I remember just straight exploring the farm houses around our neighborhood. I more I explore my memory the more I keep thinking to myself how strange it was growing up in that semi-rural neighborhood. We could just run through corn fields, bike down the hill through various back yards. Play on peoples play sets.
But if that happened in this neighborhood we’d be alarmed. If I just looked outside and saw some strange kid playing with Emmett’s stuff I’d be put off and possibly mad. What happened?
I don’t think I had to really deal with the concept of theft until we moved here. Remember when dads grill was stolen? It never even occurred to me that that could happen. I remember being so anxious the next day on the bus because I was worried people would go into my room and steal my stuff.
It feels like by having so many fences here in the suburbs we create a self fulfilling prophecy. We have fences to protect privacy yet I still remember children looking in our windows. In Wisconsin we didn’t have fences and I don’t remember kids even playing near our windows. By putting up fences we segregate ourselves. I don’t know anyone in this neighborhood! So when I see a kids in our yard my first thought is one of suspicion, but in Wisconsin we had no fences and we all trusted each other.
Point of self awareness: I was a wee-lass when I lived in Wisconsin so maybe I remember it wrong, but it certainly felt this way.
The ideas of privacy and security become more interesting when I abstract them down to just a fence. Its a flimsy excuse of a barrier that offers me more internally than externally. I wonder what the local suburbs would be like if we had no fences. I don’t for a second believe that’ll ever be a thing- so many people including myself get all agitated when you are messing around in my property- but it is an interesting thought experiment.
Did building fences give birth to a reason to have them, instead of the other way around?