slide-5-1170x382“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the esteemed Robert Frost.  And for the last several generations, American suburbs have been built as if in testament to that maxim.

But Frost wasn’t laying down a principle. If you’ve ever read the whole poem, “Mending Wall,” you know that he was quoting his neighbor. And then questioning that ever-so-American fence-building impulse.

Because a few lines later in the same poem, Frost wrote:

   Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

            What I was walling in or walling out,

            And to whom I was like to give offence.

There aren’t many fences in The Highlands at Langley. And the few there are don’t serve to wall anyone in or out. They enclose small gardens, or dogs.

And these are not tall, opaque, misanthropic affairs. They’re minimal fences, wire screens between simple cedar posts.

The Highlands is a community intentionally designed to foster relationships among residents, not separation.

Many of the homes face each other across a green or commons, front porch looking toward front porch. The garage doors and streets are in back.

The porches are roofed and generously proportioned, so people can employ them as outdoor living rooms. The railings are just the right height to sit on, tempting a neighbor to drop by and hang a leg over the beam, talking for a while.

Inside the homes, kitchen, dining and living areas are all grouped at the front. Den, office, bedrooms and bathrooms are in back. It’s a simple and logical design principle that orients the public part of the house toward the public space of the community. It’s so logical and community-spirited that we can only wonder why a couple of generations abandoned it.

(Don’t blame Frost. Blame the developers who never bothered to read the whole poem.)

Not building high fences and walls is totally in harmony with the community spirit of Whidbey Island. People here know their neighbors and generally like them. Whidbey Islanders are quick to help out—to loan a pickup truck to a neighbor who needs to haul a load, or volunteer a hand to help paint a porch.

The design of a neighborhood can influence human behavior for better or worse. It can either encourage or discourage community. It’s pretty obvious what effect walls between homes have.

Good fences make no neighbors.

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