Jon Mendelson’s May 11 column brought back memories of the halcyon days of my adolescence in eastern Pennsylvania. We would sit outside on the front porch swing after supper on warm summer nights. Neighbors would stroll past and exchange pleasantries for a few moments before moving on to the next house for yet another friendly chat.
When we first moved to Tracy, my husband and I entertained similar suburban dreams. Tracy has glorious summer nights, and it seemed perfect for neighborly chatting. Soon after we moved in, however, we erected a fence. Neighborhood kids were using our front steps for skateboarding and our driveway for bicycle tricks.
Don’t get me wrong; we like kids and have two adult children. In our litigious society, if one of those boys fell and was hurt, the parents most likely would have sued us. We had no intention of retreating from our neighbors. We were concerned about liability, plain and simp.
Mendelson writes, “It’s naive to think development will return to the way it was.” It is naive to think that not erecting walls and fences will make communities return to the way they once were. There was actually a time when people cared what the neighbors thought, when young and old alike treated one another respectfully, when people voluntarily obeyed traffic laws. Oh, yeah. And when people didn’t drive by with booming car stereos blasting loud, pounding, profane, violent rap and shattering the peace.
Those days are long gone.
Look at our traffic in Tracy. Tracy has some of the worst and rudest drivers I have ever seen, even compared to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Apparently, driving without talking on the phone is impossible. Also, I can only assume that no one’s turn signals work anymore. I see young people spin doughnuts, run stop signs, park in handicapped-designated spaces without placards and speed on residential streets.
When parents drop their kids off at school, the parents cut each other off, block crosswalks, run stop signs and sometimes endanger young kids by not giving them the right of way when the kids are trying to cross the street.
My neighbors and I actually saw a man in a large pickup with two motorcycles in the truck bed drive his vehicle on a pedestrian walkway to get to a main thoroughfare because he was too lazy — or felt too self-entitled — to use one of the entrances to the neighborhood. Or maybe he was just a colossal jerk. The city finally installed a bollard, rendering his vehicular ingress and egress impossible.
Are you kidding me A pedestrian walkway Kids use the walkway to get to school, moms push baby strollers and joggers run with their dogs on the walkway. And Mendelson criticizes the design of select exit and entry points When people exhibit this selfish, dangerous, rude behavior, it’s no wonder that residents don’t want through traffic.
Through traffic should be kept to a minimum in residential neighborhoods. If a community can make its sidewalks safer for its children by having a gated neighborhood or by designing curving streets, cul-de-sacs and very few inlets and outlets, the residents are ensuring their dream. This is not elitism. This is a result of the fact that our culture no longer fosters community.
For example, when a nearby neighbor was landscaping, he rented an outhouse for the contractor’s crew. Someone vandalized the jobsite, overturning the outhouse and dumping stolen patio furniture all over the front lawn. Another night a neighbor’s car window was smashed in. Yet another night a neighbor’s house was egged. One other neighbor’s house and car were paintballed. Drivers throw fast-food wrappers and cups around the streets. Toilet papering, apparently, is de rigueur. And all of this is in a nice neighborhood with high-end houses (and few streets with outlets). It is shocking that parents are not teaching their children how to behave as citizens.
So, Mr. Mendelson, where is the small-town charm Is it any wonder, after saving up a down payment, putting in a lawn and a few flowers, keeping the windows clean and hosing down the front walk, that a homebuyer who finally has the American Dream tries to preserve it
My fence does not keep my neighbors away. It does not keep costumed children away on Halloween. It does not keep away Boy Scouts collecting for their food drive. It has, though, had the secondary benefit of cutting down on the number of proselytizers and solicitors that ring.
During my precious time in the afternoon, after I am done with my daily chores and before I have to start dinner, I like to put my weary feet up and have a cup of tea. Then the doorbell rings and it is someone wanting to sell me something, or wanting to convert me to something or wanting to clean the carpet in one room of my house for free. As if I would let a stranger in!
So if sound walls, bollards, curving streets, cul-de-sacs and limited access to a neighborhood make it more safe, if my fence reduces the risk of liability and if it keeps one unwanted solicitor or proselytizer away from my front door, then in the words of Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.”
Marilyn Weissberg is a retired legal assistant and office manager who moved to Tracy four years ago.