To paraphrase Robert Frost, “Something there is that doesn’t love a fence.” For 42 years, my neighbors, Norm and Ruth, enjoyed an expansive backyard, because their northern neighbors never erected a fence.
Whenever the faces and names changed next door, Norm would make his standard offer. In exchange for not putting up a fence and giving him some garage space for his lawn equipment, Norm would mow the front and back for free.
The homeowners always went for it because they wouldn’t have to buy a lawnmower. They also saw that Norm was conscientious about keeping the grass neatly trimmed. They rarely complained about Norm’s two boys using the double yard for sports. It was large enough for touch football and soccer.
My kids also benefited from the wide open space. It was a perfect Wiffle ball stadium and a great place to play running bases. When the grass was cut short in both yards, we pretended it was Wimbledon, using our fence as the net.
The house next door recently sold and before Norm could meet the neighbors and make his lawn service offer, they had erected a chain link fence. Gone was the section where partygoers used to play bean bags. No one questions their right to put up a fence. It’s just that Norm misses the old arrangement. I miss it, too.
Though I’m not a fan of suburban sprawl, I admire subdivisions where homeowners share a common village green behind their houses, rather than Balkanizing it with backyard fences. I recently learned there’s a movement among Americans to dismantle backyard fences in older, more established communities, like Forest Park.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, neighbors banding together to take down fences to create a larger communal space is becoming popular. Still, it’s a risky proposition, filled with potential pitfalls. What if the neighbors are obnoxious? Perhaps their kids will rip out your flowers. Maybe their dog will turn the lawn into a minefield.
A Realtor quoted in the article certainly pooh-poohed the practice: shared backyards make houses harder to sell and lowers their value. Potential buyers don’t want to be the bad newcomer who builds a fence. As Frost wrote in the same poem quoted earlier, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Some commentators on the WSJ article, though, disagreed with this adage. One claimed that fences turns neighbors into strangers. A suburbanite who lives in a fence-free subdivision liked the open space it provided and never had a problem with the neighbors. The vast majority of comments, however, were negative. Words like, “stupid” “nonsense” and “communism” were thrown around.
I don’t expect Forest Parkers to embrace fencelessness. I’m just saying it worked on our block for over four decades.
And I have no quarrel with the new neighbors. At least it wasn’t a privacy fence.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.