Saturday, December 12, 2009

Love your neighbor. Keep the hedge.

Keeping the spirit of my last study on the boundaries of Bexley, this post is more of a prelude to a lengthier study I hope to begin—eventually—on barriers, their evolving sophistication in keeping out the unwanted, as well as their expressive role in human settlements of varying scales. My study will at least partially respond to the essay “The Carceral Archipelago” in Edward W. Soja’s book Postmetropolis, though the Midwestern urban context is likely to seem pretty wholesome compared to the mean streets of Los Angeles. It doesn’t take an eagle eye to see that cities have lots of fences, walls, and gates, but what’s the role of a fence that has no discernible exclusionary or decorative function whatsoever? Take this chain-link fence in a middle-class suburban area of Indianapolis:

These crop up in almost any neighborhood lacking restrictive covenants that would regulate aesthetics. They operate like a perimeter fence, except that they only cover one side—that of the next door neighbor. Here’s a view from the other side of the fence:

And here’s a view almost directly aligned with the fence:

Notice that the fence doesn’t stretch all the way out to the lot line, and it certainly doesn’t cover the front perimeter. It only partially restricts lateral movement from one front yard to the next, and certainly recalls the famous Ben Franklin aphorism used in the title. But it’s not a hedge, which Franklin presumably would intend to function as a visual buffer—a person can be neighborly but respectful of boundaries, and a hedge effectively restricts unwanted snooping or excessive neighborliness. But a chain-link fence produces no visual obstruction. Just a bit down the street, another neighbor employs the same functional fencing with a different material:

By most people’s judgments, the wooden stake fence is more aesthetic than chain-link, and in rural regions, it’s a frugally efficient means of restraining cattle, but clearly that’s not the goal here. In both cases, the only apparent function is to demarcate and emphasize individual property lines, perhaps based out of a dispute on where the lawnmowing and snow shoveling should end? I’m certainly open to other suggestions, but, without a complete perimeter fence, the ability to restrict movement here is non-existent. Full perimeter fences in the front yards are relatively uncommon in this safe part of town, but their occasional presence may indicate a burglary victim more overtly than any type of electronic alarm system. See-through side fences are another matter entirely; I’m open to suggestions.


Matt Edmond said...

Good observation, Eric. I often seehomes that have incomplete fences around their property, and I chuckle to myself every time. Why bother? Unless, of course, you're making a statement about your values. Maybe I'm just too practical of a person...