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Thread: Fenced back yards in Texas

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Fenced back yards in Texas

    My wife, who is not in any development-related profession, asked if it was a law that residential back yards in Texas have fences. This came after a trip to her home state of Indiana where very few residential back yards, especially in her quaint town, have fences. I told her no, there is no law. But I wonder what cultural and historical trends have made it so that fenced yards are so common here? Is it the Texan need to keep the "private" in private property? Surely many of these unfenced lots in her town have dogs. I wouldn't want a medium or large sized dog to always be inside unless it was being walked.
    I've lived here all my life and before I traveled much, I just took it for granted that fenced in backyards were the norm everywhere.
    Are fenced yards common in the rest of the South? Are they common in the western states?

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Different parts of the United States seem to have difference "fence cultures", at least based on my experience. Al lot of this seems to deal with expectations of privacy, the level of importance given to trespass, and so on that varies from region to region.

    In the Buffalo area, the norm for developers is to leave yards unfenced. In many subdivisons, restrictive covenants ban rear yard fencing, and we're talking about an area where managed HOAs are otherwise rare. Fences rend to be more common in the city than the 'burbs, but that's mainly due to the passage of properties through more owners during their lifetime. Where fences are in place, more often than not they're short, and they usually have a high level of transparency; picket, chain link, and so on.

    In the Northeast, historically fences were used mainly for delineating property rather than for privacy or to prevent trespass; consider the low stone fences of New England. There isn't the collective "get the hell off my land" mindset. Suburban lots in the Buffalo area are also much larger than in Western states, and labor costs are quite high, so the cost of fencing will be much higher.

    When I had my first job in New Mexico, I was surprised that when a house was built, the fence was put in by default. Not just a fence, mind you, but a 6' tall rock wall in the rear yard. The walls were made out of local material, and the reasons for their presence were cultural; the "my land is my land" mindset and a greater emphasis on privacy in American Western culture, and a history of compound-like living arrangements in the early Spanish colonies that still influenced contemporary design. Also, unlike lots in the Northeast, smaller residential lots in New Mexico are completely graded, so boundary walls are integrated into retaining walls.

    When I visited my then girlfriend's parents in Los Angeles, I noticed that everybody had fences, but they were all cinder block walls.

    Here in the Austin area, cedar fences are the norm. In the town where I work, soils tend to be shifty, and the fences don't age well; after a couple of years, they look like they've weathered a few hurricanes and earthquakes. Cedar is a local material, but it's not very durable; it warps, cracks and splits easily.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    It's funny you asked that question because about a month ago I asked the same question. I'm glad there are more of us like that out there - curious about fences!

    While I can respect the fence for privacy I don't know if I'd want a developer to automatically think I want or need one. In fact, after one trip back from Phoenix we decided to change our city's fence ordinance so that fences/walls must be made of "regionally appropriate material" and walls are not allowed unless approved on the prelim and final plats of subdivisions. We DON'T want a bunch of people throwing up walls.

    One time I was coming back from Dallas and was talking about this with the woman next to me. She boasted that in seven years she "still didn't have to know my neighbors". That is a direct quote. Up here in Iowa we want to see who we live by, what's going on, etc.

    Interesting!

  4. #4
    [One time I was coming back from Dallas and was talking about this with the woman next to me. She boasted that in seven years she "still didn't have to know my neighbors". That is a direct quote.
    Interesting![/QUOTE]

    That is a shame. So true though. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and I was very pleasantly surprised to see hardly any fences in the suburban neighborhoods. It is so much more attractive and welcoming. I would move to those types of neighborhoods in a heartbeat. If I were a kid, I would love it because it gives you more space to run around and play. I guess the developers do the same in the Philly area as Buffalo, as Dan mentioned, where no fences are the norm.

  5. #5
    Backyard fences are the norm in California. It may be climate related. People spend so much time in their backyards, even my mom's Christmas gathering in the Bay Area spills to the backyard, that the privacy is needed. Plus the yards are very small.

    I am more surprised by front yard fences, which seem less for privacy and more for keeping strangers out of the yard.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    ...
    In the Buffalo area, the norm for developers is to leave yards unfenced. In many subdivisons, restrictive covenants ban rear yard fencing, and we're talking about an area where managed HOAs are otherwise rare. ...
    Wow. I would bet that in Texas the restrictive covenants require fencing!
    Very interesting feedback. Thanks, all.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Here in Colorado, I have a 6' cedar privacy fence. I wouldn't have it any other way. I guess I am of the anti-planner school on this, but I use my backyard for privacy, reckon, I like not to be bothered in my backyard nor spied upon. Mind you, I know all my neighbors and despite my neighborhood being a recently snout-nose bedroom community, I have not experience a vacuum of community here.

    I don't know. Fences are common in Colorado. Most neighborhoods now ask for a split rail fence, delineates the property line, but doesn't really fence anything.
    Personally, I like the 6' wood privacy fence. I don't understand those who do not want a fenced backyard at all. But it could be just how I was raised.


    I do not like the 6' vinyl PVC privacy fences being erected these days. One sibdivision in the Town Next Door requires only those.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    In the upper midwest, its a function of pet control more than trespass issues. Being in South Texas almost a month now, I concur with Dan's other observations.

  9. #9
    One other thing that may be driving the fences, at least in California (I can't speak for Texas and other states). It has been the norm since the time of Eichler housing to have almost the entire backyard facing walls to be all glass: bedrooms, livingroom, etc. Without the fences, your neighbors would be able to see you first thing in the morning.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    I think fences are also a function of income. Since gated communities are fairly rare now, people still want the privacy fence. This is certainly the case in the upper-middle class suburb I work in. Any regulation or restriction on fencing in my town is met with anger, "I thought this was a free country."

  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    In the Great Lakes region, fencing is usually not installed by the developer, but is left to the buyer to install. Fencing of yards is very common and the cultural intent varies. Some just want to simply delineate their property and install transparent fences, others want "privacy" by installing semi-private fences.

    I personally like to have my yard fenced, but simply for delineation and it would have to be a low transparent fence - ie picket, chain link.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  12. #12
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rcgplanner View post
    I think fences are also a function of income. Since gated communities are fairly rare now, people still want the privacy fence. This is certainly the case in the upper-middle class suburb I work in. Any regulation or restriction on fencing in my town is met with anger, "I thought this was a free country."
    In the case of fence regulation, I agree that a little regulation is needed. Fence regs in our town is left up to the individual HOAs. My neighborhood goes for consistency in design (where the fence faces the street) and a 4 foot setback long the sidewalks for corner lots. The HOA Next DoorTM has no fence regulations meaning a hodge podge of different styles and materials.*

    *-hmmm, I sense a photog trip today...
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    If people are indulged in their absurd fantasy that they can be landed gentry while fitting everyone into the already sprawly footprint, fences soon enough become a necessity or at least a likelihood for the reasons of security/pet-child movement control and privacy. I would be more amenable to transparency / height cotnrol at the front of a house than the back.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  14. #14
    Cyburbian FueledByRamen's avatar
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    Several HOAs in DFW require 6' privacy fences (the one-sided type....the ugliest fence you can build) and disallow chainlink/cyclone, 4' fences, pickett, shadowbox, etc.

    We have 4' chainlink fences (covered in honeysuckle). If we didn't have two dogs, the fence wouldn't be necessary at all. It makes our backyard feel much bigger than it really is.

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