“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
My neighborhood, built in the late 70’s, is one of the original developments on the Golden Mile.
As long as I can remember, 40 has been a pedestrian-friendly side of town. Only one of two in the whole county. From childhood, it was common to see both children and adults alike walk through my complex and many others as shortcuts while en route. It’s the 40 way. Natives understand the beauty and bewilderment of finding alternative paths in the trek to our destinations — and there are so many of them.
Connected to other neighborhoods by way of cut-throughs, open fields and alleyways, it remains a popular timesaver when walking to the store, the old mall, and the main street.
That’s why I never thought I’d see the day when a fence would be constructed around my home.
Fences serve various purposes – both real and imagined. It denotes a feeling of security and separation; one must belong to enter; protective borders from the outside world, denying its entry and access.
Fun fact: One of the first informal Homeowners’ Associations was in 1920 Indiana, when African-American dentist Lucien Meriwethers moved on 2257 North Capitol Avenue. (White) Neighbors instantaneously formed the North Capitol Protective Association to advocate housing segregation. 10 foot fences were built on either side of Meriwethers’ home to discourage him from staying. Coined “spite fences,” these fences were a mechanism to uphold neighborhood and racial exclusivity. Today, the same methods apply to maintain similar affluence, social class, and race within the community.
I can’t help but reference my last exchange with the HOA president when trying to host a School’s Out Neighborhood Block Party on the central abandoned black top between the two complexes of my neighborhood. During that conversation, he forewarned that a fence would be erected to combat foot traffic, mentioning it more as a foot note to his spiel about denying my event with police assistance, if necessary. I can picture his smirk drunk with satisfaction, now.
My neighborhood was once a compound of juveniles–climbing trees, racing bicycles, sitting on the green box, screaming, running, and playing in the streets until the corner lights came on. We skinned our knees on the blacktop, swung on the playground, and visited our friends in Elmwood Terrace, Lake Coventry, Hunters Glen and other adjoining neighborhoods. Our stomping grounds were always an adventure. I know because I was one of them. Sadly, the kids have all grown up and HOA complaints leave the circle quiet and empty. Today, children are seen as a nuisance more than a delight. New families are confused by the brunt of rejection and restrictions their children have to comply with.
Recently, a development was expanded to replace the former wooded area that spanned across the entire backyard of my complex. The new neighbors are predominantly African-American residents. Similar to my upbringing, the new community is full of families and children. With the influx of this population, it blatantly triggered a frenzied defense of the usual: perceived danger, threat, and a bother. Despite finding themselves in a multiethnic environment, the residents of my community are utilizing a fence as a way to exert and maintain power. One can’t help but think of the convenient timeliness of it all. It’s telling.
The long, winding fence encourages a high degree of social distance despite physical proximity. I can only imagine the newly implemented neighborhood watch programs and freshly cultivated relationships with police. *eye roll*
Historical research will tell you that fences date back to slavery when white slave owners restricted the movement of slaves sparked by a racialized fear that helped shape political and societal order. Just reading a few headlines today will quickly inform you of our country’s priority to build a wall to combat illegal immigration, painting people who cross our borders as violent, threatening criminals when facts suggest otherwise.
Sure, a fence is not a wall. But it sends a message during a critically sensitive era and is symbolic to current political times. It’s a dig of resentment, of do-away culture — an ideology that is prevalent in today’s times; a delusional reality of us versus them, a keep-out! mentality that drives the desire to live on untouched, uncontaminated grounds, to keep the privileged private and deter others from interrupting their status quo.
Conspiracy thoughts? Maybe. But, “Fear is the highest fence.” – Dudley Nichols
Man, I miss the 90’s.
Flippen, C. (2015). Diversity and Its Discontents: A Review of Behind the White Picket Fence. Southern Spaces. doi:10.18737/m78w34
Mock, B., & CityLab. (2017, January 13). The Hidden Fences of Pittsburgh. Retrieved from https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/01/the-hidden-fences-of-august-wilsons-birthplace/512882/
Mullins, P. (2019, January 20). Racist Spite and Residential Segregation: Housing and the Color Line in Inter-War Indianapolis. Retrieved from https://paulmullins.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/racist-spite-and-residential-segregation-housing-and-the-color-line-in-inter-war-
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