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Fencing: Rethinking Privacy in an Urban Environment

Posted on 05 April 2011



By Danni Duggan for Landscape Network
Good fences make good neighbors. We have all heard the expression. And if you live in an urban setting such as Denver, Colorado, you know that the closer-in to an urban center you live, the more densely packed folks become. Fences seem the logical solution to define spaces. The question we found ourselves asking last year when we decided to re-build our fence, however, is, “Does a fence have to be a privacy barrier that blocks out the happenings of our neighborhood?”

We knew that it was finally time to rip down the twenty-foot section of arbor vitae that had served for over a decade as a repository for discarded items left by the daily stream of passers-by heading to the bus stop just down the street from us. We also knew that rather than constructing a fence that matched the existing privacy fence surrounding our backyard, we wanted to do something different. While we do require a fence to encourage the dogs to stay on our property and encourage strangers to stay off, we wanted a fence that would open up our view of the neighborhood and encourage interaction with the neighbors. We wanted something that would support a climbing rose as well as our spring time plantings of sugar snap peas. The fence needed to be landscape functional and friendly.

At this point, unsure of what we would use for fencing material, we could have consulted the experts. After all, who better to know the latest and greatest materials being used in fence construction today? We decided to go a slightly different route, however. Instead, we leashed up the dog and took nightly walks around the neighborhood to see what others were doing in their yards. We could not be the first people in the neighborhood to decide that they wanted to trade privacy for a full-on view of everything happening around them, good and bad.

We discovered a number of neighborhood fences that had built-in windows at both human and terrier heights. We learned from one homeowner that his fence windows were original to his house and that he had replaced them a few years ago with energy efficient windows. Another neighbor had constructed a Dutch door out of a section of his fence. The upper portion opened so that he could see what was going on, but the lower section remained in place, keeping Fido safely contained in the yard. There were a fair number of “art” fences in our neighborhood as well, metal fencing with bike parts and other found objects welded in place. We liked the idea of metal, but we had a hard time moving away from the idea of wood. Plus, in our effort to stay “green,” we wanted to re-use the existing fence posts from our privacy fence.


In the end, after all our research, we opted for a fence constructed of both metal and wood. We left the sunken wooden posts that belonged to our old privacy fence in the ground, but we removed all the privacy panels. In their place, we hand-constructed individual panels of concrete mesh held by a wood frame. Concrete mesh is a material typically used to reinforce a concrete patio, and since it is not traditionally used decoratively, it was inexpensive. We re-purposed the mesh as the star of our new fence project. And the results are better than we could imagine.

For one, we see everyone that walks down the street to the bus stop. We now recognize the regulars. We know more of our neighbors by name, many of whom stopped by to inquire about the fencing material as we were building the fence. We have found that the construction of good fences does make good neighbors. More importantly, those fences do not have to be barriers, walling us in, and everyone else out.


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