Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?


When I was in the fifth grade, my family moved to the suburbs. We lived in a house on a corner lot, and our spacious backyard combined with those of our neighbors behind us. All of the kids traveled in a pack across invisible property lines. There were no fences.

Next door there was a metal swingset, which squeaked and shimmied whenever more than two of us played on it. Another neighbor had planted bushy pine trees in his yard, a perfect spot for hide-and-seek. We ran wild, playing tag until dusk approached and we wandered home for dinner. There were no schedules, no play dates, no individual juice boxes. If we needed to drink water or use the bathroom, we ducked into whatever house was closest to where we were playing.

The suburban neighborhood where we now live is both remarkably similar to and entirely different from that of my youth. There are fences and wooden playsets in nearly every yard, and there has been a recent emergence of basketball hoops in every driveway. Next door, two doors down, across the street and next door to across the street…Every afternoon I hear the syncopated rhythm of individual basketballs. After a while, the sounds of dribbling and lay-ups meld together until they seem to be coming from a single court.

Our children don’t travel in a pack from house to house; they are driven in vans or SUVs to the homes of school friends who live miles away from us. There are no spontaneous games of hide-and-seek or pick-up basketball in our neighborhood. I can accept that times have changed. But when I hear those balls hitting the pavement, I remember how we used to fill our old neighborhood with the noise of just one, bouncing ball and of many children playing together.



Comments (8)

I have been noticing this too. So sad. We have lived on our current street for over 12 years. It was new when we got here. No fences to be seen and my kids were toddlers. We had a swing set and I told our neighbors to feel free to send their kids over to play.
Within 2 years, almost every house (not ours) has a fence. One difference though is that there are two BB hoops one on either end of the street and there is a little bit of a neighborhood feel as kids join together to play BB at either end of the street.
The whole notion of neighborhood & community seems to have shifted- how we find or create it.
thanks for the reflection!

Thanks for the comments from those who remember me from the old neighborhood, and from you, Pearl. It helps to know that I am not alone in noticing these changes and feeling the tug of nostalgia.

And she’s right.. I was there 🙂

those were fond memories, but things always change

From your description, it appears that we grew up in the same ‘hood!

One of the things for which we are thankful each day is that our move across the country has brought us to a place without fences and where our kids really do play with the kids on the street. They freely roam from yard to yard until the fireflys appear and someone’s mom calls her kids home. It much more closely resembles the childhood of our youth rather than the one we had been giving them in SoCal.

Such a blessing…

You are lucky to have found such a place…from what I understand, it’s more “rural” than “suburban.” For a while, we had a family living a few houses away on the same side of the street, and the boys would just show up at our door looking for my son. Unfortunately, they moved and it’s not entirely safe for him to cross the street to meet other kids. As Lynn says, “Things change.”

Some of the places I ventured in the small towns I grew up in people would have heart attacks just thinking about the possibilities. A good example was me and a neighbour exploring the Credit River near Georgetown, Ontario. It was summer in between school, explored the paths to the river ,waded across to the sand bar spent a little time and went home, try that now, eh! Good Luck.

Dale makes a good point. The opportunities for finding trouble in my largely unsupervised youth were endless, and the world presents new, scary ways for kids to get hurt. As a parent, I try to anticipate the mischief my kids might make, and keep closer tabs on their activities. Still, I wish my son would wander next door and shoot hoops with the kid who lives there. But because they are are a few years apart in age and go to different schools, they don’t play together.

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