The problem with fences

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Just returned to LA and one of the things that jumped out at me as I was driving Kinglsey to school this AM is how much horrible fencing there is all over our city.

You know what kind of fencing I mean: Cheap, metal, and utilitarian. Another way to describe it would be “anti-human” – it makes you feel like you’re in some kind of super-max penitentiary.

Why is this awful fencing up all over our city? Well the obvious answer is that property owners want to keep criminals, graffiti “artists”, and other undesirables off their properties.

But there’s something deeper going on and, like many things in LA, it comes back to our antiquated planning and zoning codes.

Unlike New York, SF, and other cities, LA requires setbacks for development in almost all zones. What are setbacks? They’re basically front, side and rear yards.

What’s wrong with setbacks? After all, they allow for more light in every structure (because you can put windows in on all sides), provide a fire break, etc.

I’ve previously addressed the main problem, which is that setbacks waste an unbelievable amount of land in a city where land is increasingly scarce. And I’ve addressed the fact that, by separating structures, side setbacks make streets less walkable (because everything is that much further apart).

But here’s another problem with setbacks… they’re why we have all those ugly fences. The code forces us to have a bunch of effectively vacant land on every lot, land which is not enclosed in a building with lockable doors. Therefore, as an owner who would like to prevent, say, a homeless guy from sleeping on your property, your only recourse is to fence the whole thing.

So here’s what happens: Owners get tired of chasing vagrants off their lots. They look for the cheapest solution, which is cheap metal fencing. And so the rest of us have to live in a city that feels like a jail… all because of the zoning code.

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