Whatever happened to chainlink fences?

Last week I was driving down a major thoroughfare in Baton Rouge behind what appeared to be a fairly nice upper-middle class neighborhood.  Something caught my eye that made me profoundly sad as I considered the implications behind it.  Three backyards in a row contained very nice red cedar playground sets.  Three families living next door to one another had spent thousands of dollars buying the very best professional level equipment for their children’s backyard adventures.

Now, I don’t have any problem with families spending money on nice swingsets.  What struck me was the thought that I never would have seen this when I was growing up – three houses right next to one another, all with virtually identical major-league playground gear.  I’m not reaching back to some long ago era, either.  I’m talking about growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, when yards were separated by chainlink, if there was a fence at all.

The good ole chainlink fence served to keep the dogs in the right yards, and let you know where to stop cutting the grass, but they didn’t keep neighbors away from each other.  As kids, we’d just climb right over and let the adventures begin.  This is, of course, assuming you were starting in the backyard.  We were just as likely to be out in the front yard, or roaming around the neighborhood.  “Well, times were safer then,” you may be saying to yourself.  “It’s a dangerous world these days!”  I know there is some truth in that, but consider this…maybe our nation and our neighborhoods have become more dangerous places in part because we live in a culture of 6 foot (or higher) security fences.  When we put up walls to insulate ourselves from one another, and retreat to the secure privacy of our backyards and entertainment rooms, we lose our sense of freedom and security in the connection of neighbors.  Real people who live on our street with real kids who we know by name.  When we are personally invested in the lives of those around us, we feel better and safer, because our neighborhood is, in fact, a better and safer place.  Disconnection breeds mistrust, and mistrust sadly gives rise to hate, violence, and crime.  Building taller, thicker fences isn’t helping – it’s part of the problem.

So…to the three households with the cedar wonderlands in the back, I say decide whose yard will be home base, and sell those other two sets.  Better yet, donate them to a city park – maybe they’ll draw others out of their backyards and into community.  Then, get to know your neighbors so you’ll have no worries about sending the kids to play next door.

As for me and my household…anybody know anything about putting up chainlink?  Somewhere on the other side of my security fence are some good folks, maybe even good friends, just waiting to be met.

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