Don’t Build Walls, Build Attractive Walls

In El Paso, as well as other cities on the border, it’s customary to build stone walls around your property rather than a picket fence, a style that originated with our neighbors in Mexico. It was jarring a first to see heavy rock walls rather than wooden fences, but its practical. Wood in the desert, no matter how much you seal it, bleaches, splits, and splinters in the intense heat and sunlight. My cousins have a super cool playset in their backyard in the Houston area, and after hours of searching and researching online, we decided we couldn’t really have one in El Paso because the wood would be destroyed without constant maintenance (thanks but no thanks, I have lots of other things to maintain).

The Fence

The neighborhoods in our area do not have a Home Owners Association, which means that you don’t need permission to do anything to your property, which is fantastic, but it also means your neighbors can rig up an uneven fence above their rock wall so that we see drips of outdoor stain and exposed nails. The only rule out here is that you can’t raise the rock wall above four feet, but you can build any other kind of fence on top of it you want. Lots of people have interior fences of engineered wood or iron, and some have wood that looks like crap.

In my opinion, you should embrace the climate you’re in. Some folks here attempt to maintain grass, and its ludicrous. They are constantly watering and it dies anyway. We have rocks and turf because we live in the desert and the desert always wins. Our houses are made of stucco because again, the upkeep on a wooden structure out here would be a full time job. But, in a pinch for a homemade fence, wood will do.

Our neighbors have two medium-sized dogs that double as professional escape artists. We were the first neighbors to put down turf, so the dogs would hop over the rock wall and poop in our yard because honestly who wouldn’t prefer to poop on turf than on dust and rocks? The dogs aren’t mean or anything, but I don’t have any pets on purpose so I don’t have to pick up poop in my backyard, and there is poop out there nonetheless. And when I had very small babies the dogs would hop over to investigate and freak everyone out.

The people next door really tried to contain those dogs, but a rock wall was not enough to keep them in the yard. They put obstacles in the spots the dogs used to climb the wall, but within a week of each new obstacle they’d find a way around it. And so, the fence was born. Our neighbors are lovely people, and the fence is really for our benefit, as it’s not a privacy fence, it’s just supposed to contain their pets. It mostly works in that regard, but it is unsightly on our side.

Living in the wild west means no rules I suppose, and now that I want to put in a fence of my own I’m glad I don’t have to get approval and permits or anything like that, but perhaps some sort of oversight would have taken care of the problem before it was created. I’ve moved every few years my entire life, and though we don’t have plans to move right now, I am constantly thinking about putting the house on the market. No one is going to buy the house with two-thirds serene backyard and one third makeshift prison and tetanus hazard. Our neighborhood is still growing, so you can go a few blocks over and get this same house without the crazy fence neighbors. What makes the older homes stand out are the backyards, because yards are not included in the new construction versions of our house, it will just be dust unless the buyers pay to landscape. So why would someone buy my house that has sticky handprints all over the walls when they could go down the street and get a fresh new one? Because of the established yard.

We have called a few fence people to get quotes for our yard and after the first meeting it became clear that the neighbor’s wooden fence is just high enough that it wouldn’t be covered by a standard fence and we will have to pay extra for a taller one/larger piece of sheet metal. If our fence was just for privacy it might not matter (LOL @ privacy fences when you can just go upstairs and look out the window into the backyards of everyone around you) but it’s specifically to cover the ugly franken-fence next door. Our fence needs to be even on both sides, so we’ll have to have a higher fence over there, too, which will make our fence slightly higher than the other neighbor’s fence, which I would find irritating if it happened to me. They just paid to put in a nice iron fence and now we will put one in right behind it that’s slightly higher, like some kind of decorative iron arms race.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that bureaucracy and red tape are annoying but I sort of understand why people would want to live in an area that has regulations. Apart from the occasional rando who repaints their house green, we don’t really have a lot of issues with wild projects changing the look of the neighborhood, but I honestly wish more people would stray from the norm because everything here is brown.

I don’t mind nature’s brown, like rocks and wood and leather, but added brown just seems unnecessary. You know how you see buildings in very cold places like Sweden painted cheerful colors so the place looks brighter during dark winters? El Paso did the opposite. Builders came here, looked around and said, “huh, everything here is brown, so we should try and match everything we build to the dust in the desert. We will offer lots of choices, but all the choices are some kind of brown.” I’m sure they had their reasons, like white stucco needing to be cleaned and repainted every year, but jeez it’s a lot of brown. Have I mentioned I hate brown? Because I really and truly do. Also, I hate my neighbor’s fence.

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