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A Fence Is No Defense : Commentary on local issues, viewpoints of residents and community leaders, and letters. : A design contest illustrated both sides of the fencing issue: that although some believe barriers keep out bad elements, they also can be self-imprisonment.

June 20, 1993|JULIA ANNE DONOHO | Julia Anne Donoho is a Santa Monica architect who entered a competition to design a fence around Baldwin Hills Village. Her entry was no fence at all. The community's homeowners association has no involvement with the contest or its outcome. and

As is happening all over Los Angeles, a man recently had the idea that he should put a fence around his house to keep out the "bad elements." Since his house is in the midst of a housing community of 600 units, it was not possible to fence in just his house but would require fencing in the entire community. That community is Baldwin Hills Village or the "Village Green."

He set about to raise support for his idea from his neighbors. Some thought this might be a good idea; some thought it was a terrible idea. Some of them got together and started the Fence Committee.

The committee's first step was to figure out how to fence in the community. This proved a difficult task because the community has many pedestrian and automotive access points. So one member decided to sponsor an architectural competition to generate ideas--and revenue--and thus was born "The Fence: An Open Competition." He got some help, made some announcements, designed a flyer and wrote a program. The program included crime reports and a bibliography of recommended readings such as "My Visit to the Barricades," "History of a Crime" and "War and Building."

The competition was recently completed and judged. The favored entry was for a human fence of polyester-clad disco dancers. While there were more conventional fences among the entries, a large number of competitors opted out of the militant/secure paradigm proposed by the sponsor--or for no fence at all. And some architects did not submit entries because they thought a fence was a bad idea.

Despite all the work, the homeowners association would neither endorse nor support the competition.

There were no incidents here during the riots. The homeowners survived by virtue of their socioeconomic diversity and their willingness to look out for each other; i.e. by being a community. Individual ownership of the units at the Village Green has done more to protect the community than a fence could ever accomplish. Fences do not bring communities together, they cut them up.

Recently a fence was built around Park La Brea. Neither the city nor the community seems to be better off for it. While there may be a perception of greater security, in reality there is more awareness of potential danger, more fear and paranoia, and more nuisance in life. That fence is ugly and looks like prison bars. Prison bars do not make us safe. There are solutions to the problems of Los Angeles that do not involve self-imprisonment and deprecation of the urban environment.

Drive around South-Central and look at the fences there, even around the Blue Line. Every day more people apply for permits to put prison bars around their houses. If a person grows up living in a communal prison, how can we dare to hope that they will find a way out?

Fences cannot keep out the kind of violence that we saw last spring. The violence is not out there; the violence is in each of us. We must heal ourselves and our communities instead of building fences.

The community is strong and safe without a fence.

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