|Before the fence|
Earlier this summer, I decided to enclose my yard with a post and rail fence with garden wire to prevent my dog from wandering into my neighbor's yard. For years, our backyards had been divided with a natural boundary of trees and shrubs, but my neighbors (to my horror) removed two towering hemlock trees creating a gap that begged to be filled. I planted smoke bush shrubs, ferns and hosta on my property line, but greenery wouldn’t keep this high energy dog from chasing squirrels, so a minimalist fence seemed like a solution.
The day of the estimate I learned from the fence guy that my neighbors had already ordered a 6-foot stockade fence to divide our yards. I shared my plans with the neighbors hoping that we could maintain the open feeling on our properties, but they preferred the privacy the solid fence would offer. "Have a nice life," I thought.
Post fence installment, the summer has passed with no interaction with people who have lived 20 feet away from me for more than 25 years. Before fence, we greeted each other in passing, sometimes commenting on weather, news or life, and now, a social blackout. It’s a very nice fence; the garden seems cozier to me now; but I miss the openness and the connection to others.
I grew up on a NE Philly row house street where you sat on the porch on summer nights and played in the street with dozens of kids every day. In contrast, social life on my street is sterile and isolated. When I moved here in 1987, I envisioned my play life for my son, but it never happened. Kids rarely play outside; people never invite you into their homes; we’re cordial, but we rarely go beyond hellos. We all work and weekends are busy, but I know that it's different in other communities and I wonder what happened here.
I envy friends who have block parties and neighbor relationships. My sister has had a progressive dinner date a few times a year with her neighbors for decades. A good friend hosts an annual picnic where I have come to know her neighbors better than my own. As a single Mom for my first 10 years here, it would have been nice to have stronger connections. Approaching retirement, I am seriously thinking about finding a more welcoming environment for my golden years.
How do neighborhoods become strong social networks? Do some strong personalities become the catalyst that brings people together? Do common ages/ethnicities make it easier to bond?
What’s your neighborhood like? Do you prefer privacy or a stronger sense of community? Share your wisdom.