Monthly Archives: November 2009

No Fences In Cedar Hills

Laura and I have been spending a lot of time lately at my parents house in Cedar Hills, Utah. In the past, I’ve used Cedar Hills as a kind of poster city for the problems inherent in suburban living. While I continue to be shocked and disappointed at how damaging that lifestyle is (environmentally, socially, etc.), there is one unique thing that I really like about my parent’s neighborhood: no fences.

When I first visited my parents home after they moved there in 2007 I was at once disappointed and pleasantly surprised. First, I was disappointed because the houses in the neighborhood weren’t atypically interesting; though it didn’t shock me, they’re all pretty much like those any newish housing development. However, what amazed me then and impresses me now is that there are relatively few partitions between the homes. Each house technically has a yard, but for the most part they all run together. The result is that the houses all kind of feel like they’re in a park. This also has the added benefit of making the fairly small yards feel spacious. 
Besides making people believe their yard is bigger than it actually is, there seem to be a number of benefits to not having fences. For example, it makes getting from point A to B much faster and more convenient; instead of going around the houses (on the frustratingly winding streets) a person could just cut through all the open yards. (Some people have tried to stop others from doing this, which is really unfortunate.) This also has the potential benefit of encouraging people to walk places instead of drive because the distance can be so much shorter on foot. (And I shouldn’t have to mention all the reasons why walking is superior to driving.)
More abstractly, a lack of fences seems to be an argument for community interaction. While suburban architecture seems specifically designed to separate (and therefore isolate, and thus alienate) people, breaking down the barriers between properties symbolically breaks down the barriers between people. Inevitably residents will see and interact more often with their neighbors if there are no fences. I don’t think it’s a far stretch to suggest that that interaction will engender greater empathy and interest among residents. Just last week while at my parents house I noticed how I could actually see into the neighbor’s house at night (and presumably they could see into my parents house). Admittedly, that raises questions about voyeurism and the like, but it also served as a reminder that there were people all around me. I wasn’t in an isolated little island of personal space. I was sharing an environment with other people. As a non-resident of the area I don’t really have a relationship with the people in the neighborhood, but the lack of fences nevertheless seems to be a promising way to combat the social entropy that some claim is inherent in suburbia. 
Unfortunately, fences are slowly going up in Cedar Hills. Some seem to be designed to keep pets in, while others look like they’re simply to prevent people from cutting across the yard. Though I hope it doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if in five or ten years all the houses in the area had fences. Still, keeping the neighborhood open is a good idea. Suburban living is perhaps the least efficient and socially conscious lifestyle out there, but if tearing down fences doesn’t make anything greener it at least encourages people to see themselves first and foremost as members of a community. Ultimately then, in this case and unlike other suburbs across the nation, Cedar Hills has figured something out that surprisingly begins chip away at the problems of suburban life. 

2 Comments

Filed under environment, urban

Joaquin Neighborhood, Provo

A few years ago I lived in a house on 5th north in Provo. One of the most marking things that happened during my time in that house was the demolition of the Joaquin School, which was just across the street. It was pretty amazing to see an enormous excavator ripping whole trees out by the roots and knocking down three story walls in a single swipe.

 

As impressive as the destruction was, it was also fairly tragic. Though the Joaquin School itself hadn’t been used for a few years at that time, the very large grassy area around it was used as a park by the community. The property also had numerous large trees surrounding it. Those trees that were too big to simply pull out by the roots were cut down later. Bafflingly, the construction company even cut down the old trees that lined the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street.

 

As sad as it was to see this parcel of land decimated, the plan was for a construction company to build a new student housing development on it. The housing development was supposed to provide living spaces for a large number of students, and, at least at the time, promised to include some new open grassy areas for people to use.

 

That was in 2006. Now, it’s 2009, and disappointingly the tragedy has been compounded by the fact that in three years the demolition is the only thing that has happened. According to this Daily Herald article, the construction company went into bankruptcy and things got stalled. It’s a familiar story in this recession ravaged world, but it also begs a number  of questions: why, for example, did they go in and destroy everything if they didn’t have the money to begin building? Why did they tear out and cut down trees that weren’t even on the main construction site and wouldn’t have been in the way until serious building began (if ever)? Why has everything that has taken place ended up seemingly like the company has a vendetta against the community and good things in general?

 

In all fairness, the company has done a few things. Since they demonlished a public space they have found enough money to A) erect a chain link fence around the property, B) spray paint “no parking” signs in big red lettering on the (public) sidewalks at certain points around the property, and C) mow down any vegetation that takes root, ensuring that all that remains visible is broken asphalt and dirt. These actions have left the area looking barren and fit for a post-apocalyptic movie shoot. Understandably tall dry grass poses a fire hazard in the summer, and if people were constantly entering the property one of the them could get hurt and sue. Still, the actions of the construction company have left the Joaquin Neighborhood to be characterized more by blight than by beauty.

 

Business and construction are complex things, and I don’t mean to overly simplify the issue (though I know I am), but it is important to consider the fact that while various entities involved have been wrangling the legality of their positions, it’s actual residents of the neighborhood who have paid the real price. It’s also probably safe to say that the parent company, Arrowstar Construction, and its president Wayne Ross, aren’t based in the Joaquin neighborhood. Their interest is profit, and it’s too bad that they behaved like little boys in a school sand box with no foresight. Hopefully they’ll get on the ball, because if I was a property owner in the Joaquin neighborhood each day I’d think more and more about a lawsuit.

Leave a comment

Filed under construction, Provo