The Best Offense is a Good De-Fence


Of all the campaigns that have been spawned by the Toronto Public Space Committee (and there are many), my favorite has always been the Downtown De-Fence Project.  It was dreamed up in 2001, standing on Clinton Street with some of my housemates.  We were complaining to each other about how ugly some of our neighbours’ lawns were.  There were many aesthetic lawn crimes committed on our street such as plastic ponds, gravel and pavement.  But the real insult was chain link.  Not only are chain link fences ugly, but the message is equally unappealing: ‘Stay away from me’.

A short time later, I drafted a flyer for the Downtown De-Fence Project:

“Is your chain-link fence past its prime? Has it become an old and saggy eyesore? Maybe it was there when you moved in, or maybe it’s outlived its usefulness now that your children and pets have grown up. Well, we want to help!

The Downtown De-Fence Project is a non-profit service that offers free fence removal to any willing home owner. Fences create a barrier not only between neighbours but between home and community.  While European-inspired low iron fences can add to the cultural identity of a neighbourhood, properties surrounded by chain link tend to look more like jailyards than homes, contributing to feelings of isolation and detachment. An open neighbourhood is attractive and creates a broader sense of community.

Don’t you think it’s time we open up?
Call us today to set up an appointment or to volunteer.”


fence victory

We recruited volunteers, printed the flyers, learned how to use new tools (grinders, sawzall, sledgehammers…) and thus began Toronto’s first free-fence-removal service. Fences were removed, new friendships were formed and lawns were liberated.

Before & After

In 2006 the De-Fence project went into hibernation, only to be woken up by my own reminiscing in recent weeks.  I’ve recruited former Co-ordinator Joe Clement (recently returned from NYC) and we’re bringing De-Fencing back.  We’ve printed a brand new batch of flyers, and we’re having our first Volunteer Meeting on August 4th (details).  We hope you can join us!

Feeling a little de-fensive, aren’t we?

(note how this logo is creatively constructed from tools that are shaped like the acronym DDP?  Most people don’t notice that, so I like to point it out…  haha)

7 responses to “The Best Offense is a Good De-Fence

  1. My roommates de-fenced our house this spring (without asking or telling our landlord), and now our lives are the best!

  2. Removing fences from private property has nothing at all to do with public space and merely demonstrates TPSC’s tendency toward mission creep.

    Of course you’re doing it with homeowners’ permission, but how far removed is this project from an assault on the entire concept of private property?

  3. Hey Joe,

    I think the way treat our private spaces has an impact on the way our public spaces function.

    Billboards, for example, are all technically on private property. But they are designed to impact the public spaces around them. Same with most examples of noise complaints. The noise is coming from a private residence, or private establishment, but it effects the surrounding environment and the law recoginses that.

    Likewise with fences. Technically, they are on private property but they inform the behaviour, tone and mood of an entire neighbourhood. So it’s not an attack on private property – it’s a re-assessment of how we use our private spaces, and how we want to interact with our neighbours and the public spaces that fill the spaces between our homes.

  4. The front yards of houses are often public property in Toronto. The City, for instance, can regulate who can put in a parking spot in their front yard, by requiring a license and a yearly fee. They can do that because it’s City property.

    http://www.realestateintorontocanada.com/toronto-front-yard-parking-space-does-not-automatically-go-with-the-home/

  5. Awesome to see this project starting up again.

    I see Joe Clark’s point, but think he’s forgetting that the appearance of private property has an effect on the public space around it (which Mez stated quite well). Walking down a street with fenced in yards is an alienating experience compared to a street with “open” yards.

    To build on Herb’s point… typically, the first 6 feet of a residential property is the “city allowance”.

  6. Anyone want to come remove the 6 foot hedge in front of my house? :o)

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