Amanda Dodd moved to Oak Park last December because she loved the architecture of the neighborhood’s older houses. She and her husband purchased a 1918 bungalow, which was a far cry from the cookie-cutter house they had previously rented in Natomas. But Dodd grew frustrated with her new neighborhood: Too many of the houses were surrounded by chain-link fences. In response, Dodd started Neighbors Without Borders, a group of volunteers that will tear down unsightly fences and, in turn, beautify the streets and stimulate interaction between residents.
Tell me about your experience living in Oak Park.
Before I moved here, I heard a lot of people say negative things, but most of those people had never set foot in Oak Park. It was just a reputation that preceded it.
Upon moving here, I have found it’s really quiet at nighttime. The people are so friendly. I have a neighbor next door who’s lived here for 50 years. It’s diverse; you get all types of different backgrounds and ethnicities. The people are into growing their own vegetables and sharing them. It’s really nice. My husband and I will walk the dog. We do some grocery shopping here. I work right across the freeway. We do everything in a 1-mile radius. I’ve never had that before.
When someone sees all the fences in Oak Park, what do you think that person thinks of the neighborhood?
Crime, danger, urban poverty.
What do you want people to see instead?
I want them to see the beauty of the historical architecture. I want them to see plants and flowers. I want them to see people outside. Because it’s all there, it’s just covered up with some metal.
I remember one day, my husband and I walked the dog around, and it was in the spring and it was so beautiful. We walked around McGeorge Law School and McClatchy Park, and I was so amazed there’s this beautiful neighborhood with so much history and it’s covered up by stereotypes and a bad reputation and old houses that haven’t been taken care of, and they just need tender loving care.
Tell me about Neighbors Without Borders.
Basically, it’s an idea that removing fences—especially chain-link fences—in people’s front and side yards, opens up not only the physical space but the space for relationships to be created.
How’d you come up with the idea?
When I moved to Oak Park, one thing that drew me to the neighborhood was the architecture. There are so many beautiful homes the same as in Midtown, Curtis Park and Land Park, but the difference in Oak Park is there are fences in front of them. This has the message: “I have a dog. Don’t come in. This is a dangerous neighborhood.”
My neighbors are so friendly. You say hi to everyone on the street, which is not how I [originally] pictured Oak Park to be. There’s this facade to the outsider that [the neighborhood] is bad. The first thing you see is the eyesore of gates and fences.
Where are you in the process of forming the group?
At first, I romanticized that everyone would be knocking down my front door wanting to have their fences ripped out. But to be more realistic, it’s going to be slower until the bandwagon effect kicks in and people say, “My neighbor’s doing that. I want to do that, too.’”
We need volunteers, maybe five to 10 people, to help take down fences and put up flowers. People like to get involved in their communities, especially when they can see the change. I need help drumming up support from homeowners to get them invested in wanting to have their fences taken down. I also need people to donate material and labor to build fences.
Is there any cost in taking fences down?
No, recycling centers love the metal, so basically it’s free.
Why do you think people put up fences in Oak Park?
Oak Park didn’t get its reputation for nothing. I think at one time they were necessary, but that time is gone now.