There's a saying that good fences make good neighbours. But the more barriers I see in my neighbourhood, the more I question if that saying is (or ever was) true for anyone but farmers.
We bought our first Kiwi home in Pāpāmoa in 2015. One thing we loved about our cul de sac was its lack of high fences. The area felt spacious. Open. Hospitable.
That feeling is fading with each new neighbourhood fence. I watch builders erect sections of two-metre-high planks and feel a twinge of sadness.
For me, tall fences are a metaphor for what we've lost: a sense of community, security, openness to new people ...
Practically speaking, it's easier for some of us to have fences when our homes sit cheek by jowl. We don't need to see each other's hanging laundry or bins from the side or back gardens.
But these days, even fortunate folks with spacious sections are walling off the fronts of their homes, building mini Fort Knoxes complete with electric gate.
The gates are a practical way to keep salespeople off your doorstep. They also eliminate pesky children selling chocolates and the odd neighbour who might leave a jar of preserves or a plant on your front doorstep.
Our home came with a 1.5-metre-high wooden fence in average condition. There's no electric gate, so the front door is accessible. I briefly considered adding onto the fence after my neighbour's car got broken into in front of his house a few months ago but a good look at what little space we had for such a project and the thousands of dollars it would cost kicked the idea to the scrapheap of my mind. Also, I hated the thought of hoodlums forcing me to spend money on something I don't want.
The dog and I repeat the same loops on our neighbourhood walks. She loves watching me carry bags of digested dog food to the nearest rubbish bin, and I love checking out the architecture, discovering new details as we pass the same homes we've already seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times. More and more of those details are disappearing behind enclosures of radiata pine.
The apparent residential fence building boom in Aotearoa mirrors what's happening worldwide. The UK fencing market is worth more than £1 billion (approximately $2b). Data site IBIS World reports the fencing industry in America was expected to reach nearly US$8b ($11.2b) by the end of last year.
Governments are constructing barriers and border walls at fever pace. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in 2016 developed an installation called Good Fences Make Good Neighbours. Back then, he said: "We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders, and an exclusionary attitude towards migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalisation."
Elisabeth Vallet, author of Borders, Fences and Walls: State of Insecurity, said as of 2019, about 70 border barriers existed across the globe. That's up from about 15 in 1990.
A visit to Northern Ireland in 2010 brought me face-to-face with a section of the Peace Wall on Shankill Rd. The kids and I scribbled our names on the concrete barrier. A local told me many neighbours wanted to keep the wall because it made them feel safer.
It has been more than two decades since a truce was brokered between the British and Irish government and most political parties in Northern Ireland. Yet more than half the peace lines that exist today were built after the agreement, according to public radio programme The World.
The Berlin Wall fell after protests in 1989 and exists today in museums. Countries throughout Europe have built about 1000 kilometres of border walls since then. The walls are mostly designed to keep migrants out, but some researchers and historians say they only deflect the problem elsewhere. They cost billions of dollars, endanger people's lives and make smugglers lots of money.
Israel and Palestine; America and Mexico - places where walls can make government leaders look strong while doing nothing about the root causes of illegal migration.
Walls are even being designed to keep out Covid-19: China recently said it would install a dividing line on Mount Everest - 8800 metres above sea level - to separate climbers from the Nepalese and Chinese sides.
In a world where walls designed to prevent migrant access look strong and impenetrable on TV, it's worth asking what our own fences communicate. A short fence says: "I'm keeping the dog in my garden"; a hedge or trees say: "I want privacy that looks natural". But the tall, opaque barrier? It says: "Keep out."
Marcello Di Cintio, author of Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, said: "A wall is not a solution, it's a surrender to the problem ... A wall says: We don't know what to do so we're just going to do this."