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Thread: Fenced or unfenced yards

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    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Fenced or unfenced yards

    I don't know if this has been discussed in the past, but I'm curious as to why fenced yards are common in some parts of the US, and not in others. The city that I work for require block fencing for all new housing developments. We've had a developer ask for an exception, to use vinyl-coated wood, instead of block. For jurisdictions that allow fence-less housing developments, my city's block fence requirement probably seems onerous. What is your take on fenced or unfenced yards?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It seems to be an east vs. west issue. From the front range of the Rockies to the Pacific, it is common to see new development surrounded by fences. From the Plains east to the Atlantic, most development is unfenced. In this area people appreciate the more open feeling of not having a fence. Some communities even prohibit fences. At the same time, lots tend to be larger than you would find in the west. New England has its rock walls, but you could not really call those fences. Urban areas will also tend to have more fences - and smaller lots.
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    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I've never worked in a community that required fencing in residential developments. Regulated but not required. It's an option of the property owner. Commercial development on the other hand typically requires buffering including landscaping and solid fencing if it interfaces with residential property.

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I've never heard of a required fence. Now regulated fencing for what you want to put is extremely common in homeowners association regulations. I think safety is a concern in terms of height and accessibility to safety officials.

    Otherwise, fence styles differ in the region of the US. I think we talked about styles in some thread at some point.... anyone got a link?
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Not required;
    no permit;
    only regulation is height by which yard it's located in;
    and
    enforcement by complaint.
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  6. #6
    When I first moved east, I was very surprised to find that backyards weren't fenced. In California, there is no such thing as an open backyard (at least in the more built up parts).

  7. #7
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    It seems to be an east vs. west issue. From the front range of the Rockies to the Pacific, it is common to see new development surrounded by fences. From the Plains east to the Atlantic, most development is unfenced. In this area people appreciate the more open feeling of not having a fence. Some communities even prohibit fences. At the same time, lots tend to be larger than you would find in the west. New England has its rock walls, but you could not really call those fences. Urban areas will also tend to have more fences - and smaller lots.
    I agree with your observations, and wonder if the regulations reflect any east-west cultural differences on how we value our space. Do those in the west get more sun, and enjoy being out on their private patios/pools more? Yes, I think most lots are smaller out west... I would approximate that most housing developments here are built 4 to 5 units to the acre, resulting in 5,000 to 7,000 square foot lots... making any kind of space, indoor or outdoor, more of a premium--resulting in a need to enclose the space. However, I still see fences for rural properties in my city, for 1 and 2 acre lots. All this fencing creates a walled-off landscape for the city, and while we dress it up with decorative textures and landscaping, I am thinking some cities, including my own, over-regulate on fences.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I live in a neighborhood that does a good job with regulating the rural-to-urban Transect within a single pedestrian-shed.

    Exurban-style large-lot homes abut both a natural area and a 1920's country club and include common yards with sizable lawns and wide boulevards with large bicycle lanes and no sidewalks. Some nearby avenues here even lack curbs on some sides.



    Closer to the higher-density mixed-use area where a transit station will soon be located, the character of the single-family homes changes so that there is less of a setback and more in the way of picket fences, brick walls, and low hedges, as well as berms.



    New Urbanist recommendations place most sub-urban front porches within conversational distance of sidewalks, and defensible space is likely necessary in these conditions. So, separate codes should be instituted for each Transect Zone.

  9. #9
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I remember discussing this in a previous thread. Based on where I've lived:

    Buffalo: houses built unfenced, about half of all homeowners install fences. Most residential fences are short (4' - 5') and usually have good transparency (chain link, picket, imitation wrought iron). When lots back on an arterial or collector road, it's a mess; some lots fenced, others unfenced, with various types of fencing material.

    Cleveland: same as Buffalo.

    Orlando: houses built unfenced. Resident-installed fences tend to have very little transparency (stockade, solid PVC), and are taller (6').

    Austin: houses built with 6' stockade fences as standard.

    Denver: same as Austin. Cities in the area have VERY strict subdivision perimeter fencing requirements, to ensure consistency along arterial and collector roads.

    Las Cruces: houses built with 4' - 6' rock walls as standard.

    In all the areas I've lived, front yards are almost never fenced, except for some large urban and suburban estates; more for decorative and boundary definition purposes than for security. Even then, fences tend to be short and unimposing; see some of Pragmatic Idealist's images above. Outside of areas where the ultra-rich live, and a few areas with an extremely strong Hispanic cultural influence, the US isn't into the fortified lot thing.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  10. #10
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    I live in a neighborhood that does a good job with regulating the rural-to-urban Transect within a single pedestrian-shed.
    Nice examples with your photos. I see that these homes face onto what looks like a collector street, and led me to think... how do residential subdivisions with perimeter walls fit into the transect concept? I feel like I'm about to go off on a tangent here... but do New Urbanist developments inherently assume a grid circulation pattern? If so, I can see how perimeter walls can be done away with in these types of developments. In the exurban city that I work for, our General Plan policies call for more connectivity, however, we (in particular, the city's engineers) are not quite ready to forgo residential perimeter walls, which isolates residential homes from other uses. At best, we achieve a modified-grid layout where you may achieve a grid pattern within the perimeter walls--hence, still restricting access onto arterial streets, but allowing more grid-like blocks within.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Denver: same as Austin. Cities in the area have VERY strict subdivision perimeter fencing requirements, to ensure consistency along arterial and collector roads.
    Sometimes, I find that my city's engineers protect the traffic capacity of arterial and collector roads to an extreme, and ultimately compromises planning objectives of promoting public transit, pedestrian friendliness, and whatever sustainability benefits that may come from having a more urbanized city form. Nearly all the developed arterial streets in my city are bordered by a 6-foot block wall and 10-foot landscaping--or, a shopping/office center fronted by a large parking lot. While I can appreciate the uniformity and overall cleanliness of this design, as well as the ability to drive 50 mph along these roads with minimized intersections--it doesn't lend itself for future evolution and redevelopment. Well, I have read of ways to revitalize old strip mall shopping centers, but rigid suburban walled-off residential neighborhoods will be more difficult to deal with.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by cng View post
    Nice examples with your photos. I see that these homes face onto what looks like a collector street, and led me to think... how do residential subdivisions with perimeter walls fit into the transect concept? I feel like I'm about to go off on a tangent here... but do New Urbanist developments inherently assume a grid circulation pattern? If so, I can see how perimeter walls can be done away with in these types of developments. In the exurban city that I work for, our General Plan policies call for more connectivity, however, we (in particular, the city's engineers) are not quite ready to forgo residential perimeter walls, which isolates residential homes from other uses. At best, we achieve a modified-grid layout where you may achieve a grid pattern within the perimeter walls--hence, still restricting access onto arterial streets, but allowing more grid-like blocks within.
    I assume crime is the primary concern.

    My neighborhood is currently attempting to combine some citizen planning through non-governmental, civil-society organizations with the City's planning, which includes a Transit-Oriented Development Overlay District that The Planning Center is now crafting with assistance from Cooper Carry. So, this issue is of particularly-timely import to us from the perspective of people who are currently living with a largely-unrestricted regular grid that has a hierarchy of streets.

    Based on the limited knowledge I have of such things, the more urban, mixed-use areas benefit from greater density with lower crime levels that are provided by increased eyes on the street and eyes from the street, especially since these areas can become regional or metropolitan draws that inhere a greater number of strangers. Lower-density areas are not as capable of providing that type of surveillance, and these places, presumably, would, as such, benefit by limiting the regional or non-local traffic, ideally in a way that does not make for a less pedestrian-friendly environment.

    New Urbanists generally take the Jane Jacobs view that barriers create problems, although she limited her discussion to metropolises with residential densities that are uniformly high. I am a little more circumspect. Ease of egress from a low-density neighborhood may be correlated with higher crime rates. So, perhaps, the issue of automobile permeability needs to be separated from pedestrian, bicycle, and Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (N.E.V.) permeability.

    Limiting the number of automobile access points from a low-density area, then, is probably advisable, but doing so may not have to impair connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists or for N.E.V. users. Fusing the grid for cars in certain places and making definite edges with strong gateways, as well as passive and/or active surveillance, makes sense to me, as does filling the spines that lead to these automobile exits with traffic-calming measures. But, I'm speaking beyond my depth. The issue of permeability probably deserves its own thread.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I come from an area where if there is fencing, transparancy is the norm. This has to do with security and keeping as many eyes on the street as possible. When stockade fences do go up, its usually because someone has an issue with thier neighbors, unfortunately this type of fencing also provides great cover for thieves.

    The further from the tight confines of city lots you go the less fencing there is. I live in a neighbrohood of 30'-35' wide lots, fences are the norm. go to places where the lots are 100' by 200' and they are rare.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    We've talked about this before regarding Phoenix. Where I come from and now work most yards are unfenced or surrounded by a chain-link fence, to preserve the park-like setting. In fact, we even say in our code you can not have a block fence around an individual property - only around an entire subdivision. I don't know if it's a values thing but in the Midwest you would get a lot of funny looks if you walled in your house. Personally I wold not live in an area where this is common as it does not contribute to the local community. In fact I was on a plane once coming from Dallas home and was talking about this to a woman on the plane about this topic. She said she was proud because in six (?) years she had never once met or talked to the neighbor who lived behind her.

    I never understood why people in the West built a $500,000 house and surrounded it with a bare boned cinder block wall.
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    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Fusing the grid for cars in certain places and making definite edges with strong gateways, as well as passive and/or active surveillance, makes sense to me, as does filling the spines that lead to these automobile exits with traffic-calming measures. But, I'm speaking beyond my depth. The issue of permeability probably deserves its own thread.
    Yeah, I do think there is a way to have a little bit of both... although, it's hard to accomplish without a well-thought out development plan. On a lot-by-lot basis, this circulation and development pattern would be difficult to achieve. In my city, we often come across opinions of those who enjoy fenced-off suburban privacy, but also urban amenities like main street shopping. They'll also want to travel quickly from one end of town to another, but also pedestrian friendliness on all streets. I'm all for providing a variety of land use patterns in a city, but some people have to realize that trade-offs are necessary, and that you can't have everything within one location.

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    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I never understood why people in the West built a $500,000 house and surrounded it with a bare boned cinder block wall.
    We have plenty of houses surrounded by a bare boned cinder block wall--although, valued more at $150,000.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    I don't value walls, but you have to remember that walls are utilized a lot for sound attenuation, especially along arterials. Remember it is cheaper for a builder to construct a wall versus large setbacks and other home modifications to off-set noise at the cumulative level.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    It seems to be an east vs. west issue. From the front range of the Rockies to the Pacific, it is common to see new development surrounded by fences. From the Plains east to the Atlantic, most development is unfenced. In this area people appreciate the more open feeling of not having a fence. Some communities even prohibit fences. At the same time, lots tend to be larger than you would find in the west. New England has its rock walls, but you could not really call those fences. Urban areas will also tend to have more fences - and smaller lots.
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I come from an area where if there is fencing, transparancy is the norm. This has to do with security and keeping as many eyes on the street as possible. When stockade fences do go up, its usually because someone has an issue with thier neighbors, unfortunately this type of fencing also provides great cover for thieves.

    The further from the tight confines of city lots you go the less fencing there is. I live in a neighbrohood of 30'-35' wide lots, fences are the norm. go to places where the lots are 100' by 200' and they are rare.
    I think both of these observations are spot-on for Upstate NY. Fencing tends to be utilitarian: keep pets (or farm animals if in rural areas) inside, keep kids out of pools, hide view of neighbor's perpetually under repair Plymouth Duster, etc. I'm one of only 2 homeowners on my block to have a fence -- because I have a dog -- and I opted for chain-link with black fabric which makes the fence virtually disappear. The open yards create a large, grassy area that's like a park -- and which the neighborhood kids use for football and soccer games with nobody (well, except my pup) caring all that much. Not all that much sense of territoriality here.

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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Fences here have more to do with dogs and children. Almost always just backyard. I have only had one front yard fenced and since it was already done we left it. It was vinyl picket. I loved it. Wash it down a couple of times a year and it was good to go.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    I've worked in both the Midwest and Deep South and haven't seen subdivision enclosed by a fence and/or wall. I saw more fences in the Midwest than in the Deep South.
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    ...It was vinyl picket...
    OMG! How unsustainable!
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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cng View post
    We have plenty of houses surrounded by a bare boned cinder block wall--although, valued more at $150,000.
    Years ago, my then-girlfriend and I visited her parents in the LA area. They lived in a typical middle-class house in a typical middle-class subdivision in San Bernardino. I was jarred by the 8' cinder block wall enclosing the backyard. Every other house in the area also had a tall cinder block wall.

    FWIW, here's an example of the type of walls usually seen in Las Cruces, New Mexico. To compare, here's a new development in Buffalo.
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Years ago, my then-girlfriend and I visited her parents in the LA area. They lived in a typical middle-class house in a typical middle-class subdivision in San Bernardino. I was jarred by the 8' cinder block wall enclosing the backyard. Every other house in the area also had a tall cinder block wall.

    FWIW, here's an example of the type of walls usually seen in Las Cruces, New Mexico. To compare, here's a new development in Buffalo.
    Thanks for the examples. It's always good to be able to compare and contrast.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    Fences here have more to do with dogs and children. Almost always just backyard. I have only had one front yard fenced and since it was already done we left it. It was vinyl picket. I loved it. Wash it down a couple of times a year and it was good to go.
    When I lived in the Albany area, I lived in the West Albany area of the Town of Colonie, which I referred to as "The Land of Chain Link" because it was the fence of choice, and most lots were fenced because of pets, kids, and pools.

    However, some West Albanians (I think the ones who had been roosting there for multiple generations) favored 6 or 8 foot chain link for back yards and 4 foot chain link around their front yards, with interior chain link sections and gates dividing the yards into distinct segments -- the purpose of which always escaped me. I can understand a dog run. I can understand putting a fence around an above ground swimming pool (West Albany was NOT an in-ground pool suburb by any means). What I could never figure out was why it was necessary to fence in the 6' x 30' strip between the front of the house and the sidewalk -- and then divide that into a 6 x 20 area and a 6 x 10 area. Numerous neighbors seemed to like that configuration, though.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Years ago, my then-girlfriend and I visited her parents in the LA area. They lived in a typical middle-class house in a typical middle-class subdivision in San Bernardino. I was jarred by the 8' cinder block wall enclosing the backyard. Every other house in the area also had a tall cinder block wall.

    FWIW, here's an example of the type of walls usually seen in Las Cruces, New Mexico. To compare, here's a new development in Buffalo.
    The pictures I posted above were taken in San Bernardino. But, you must have visited a newer subdivision. The City-wide code states that the maximum height permitted is 8 feet for a "solid, decorative masonry wall" in the rear yard while the front and side yards may have 3-foot solid walls or 4-foot open-work structures that permit the passage of a minimum of 90% of light. I don't think cinder block qualifies as "decorative," though. So, some clearer specifications are in order, as well as some more exacting control over matching designs with the context of each situation.
    Last edited by Pragmatic Idealist; 15 Nov 2010 at 8:01 PM.

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