Palmerston North front fences, such as these on Rosealie Tce, Kelvin Grove, seem to be growing higher and higher.
OPINION: As a young man I spent a couple of European summers living in the Netherlands, from where I raced my bicycle around the Continent.
It was a great time, as I loved the long summer days in that cycling-centric place and I liked the people with their forthright way of discussing things. Not surprisingly, I now have a good handful of friends of Dutch heritage here in Manawatū.
One thing about the people in the Netherlands is that they are not shy in exposing the innards of their houses. With little or no front fence and huge front windows, their dwellings were designed to hide nothing.
The bigger the house, the bigger the window through which you couldn’t help but peer into a usually tidy living space with ornaments, pictures, and comfortable chairs.
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You’d even see the occupants going about their business, at least the business normally associated with a living room.
Some people would eat their meals in front of the window, so outsiders could see what they are having. You try not to be nosy and look, but you do, and I’m sure they know.
There doesn’t seem to be a singular reason provided for this form of Dutch openness, but at least one historian links it back to the Dutch reformation, where Calvinistic doctrine preached staid morality and eschewal of material possessions. So, to show their neighbours that they had nothing to hide in relation to their possession or actions, the Dutch built big windows and left the curtains open.
Although the rigid conservatism of that religious era in the Netherlands has shrunk over 400 years, the windows have grown to exemplify the openness of the Dutch.
With the penchant of the Dutch for sharing their abodes in mind, I’m a bit miffed about the Palmerston North predilection for constructing towering front fences. Many of these fences are so high you can’t even see if a house is there, let alone whether it has a front window.
Where there were once small, picket fences or hedges marking the front of a well-manicured lawn, there is now an ugly treated timber or fibro fence reaching to the sky.
So why is this happening? What do Palmerstonians have to hide?
Maybe some are planning for the success of the cannabis referendum and have already planted some pots with pot, like the Dutch I guess. Or maybe they are into nude sunbathing, like the Dutch, although with our wind-chill factor there’d be goosebumps galore.
Perhaps their teenage boys inhabit the front bedroom with the window, and no-one wants to see that. I’d be building a fence too.
Or maybe, in contrast to the Calvinists, the good burgers of our town just don’t want anyone to see what they’ve got or what they do. They just don’t like stickybeaks or nosey parkers.
It’s their call I guess, but it makes our streets look like ugly alleyways – uninviting and uninteresting. It also voids any opportunity to interact with the householder as they work their front garden.
Building fences does the opposite of building community. And community is the thing that got us through the lockdowns, and is going to get us through the next few years.
So when it comes to fences, let’s go Dutch.
Steve Stannard is a former academic and Palmerston North business owner
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