It’s easy to make idols out of athletes and celebrities, but who are the real heroes? I’m not saying sports figures and musicians can’t be worthy of respect and admiration, but in my book the most heroic people I know are normal everyday individuals walking out the grind of life – yet living out a sense of vision to make a difference. This is exactly who Amanda Dodd is, and I wanted to interview her because she is doing amazing work in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento.
Several years ago Amanda started a volunteer effort called Neighbors Without Borders, which removes front yard chain link fences for the sake of beautifying the neighborhood. You might think chain link fences have no effect on real estate, but read The verdict on chain link fences and property value. Moreover, ask yourself when the last time was you saw a builder install chain link fencing in a tract home subdivision. If you really want to go deeper, check out a study of Diggs Town Public Housing to see the power of a focus on traditional neighborhood design. This isn’t about judging anyone who has a certain type of fence, but only highlighting the reality that the way a neighborhood looks tends to say something. Right or wrong, outsiders will judge whether a community is safe or even pleasant by its appearance.
Enjoy the interview and be inspired. What do you think of Amanda’s work?
Ryan: First off, Amanda, why don’t you introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Amanda: I’m a resident of Oak Park, Wife, Mom of a 1 year old little boy, and Clinical Social Worker who works part-time in Private Practice.
Ryan: How long have you lived in Oak Park?
Amanda: I’ve lived in Oak Park for 6 years
Ryan: What do you like most about the neighborhood?
Amanda: I love the architecture–the Bungalows, Victorians, and history of the area. I love that I can walk to the post office and mail a letter, or walk through beautiful McClatchy Park on my way to the bank. The diversity here is amazing, and there is a huge sense of community unlike anywhere else. People are so involved and the energy is contagious.
Ryan: Explain what your project is and how it began.
Amanda: When I moved to Oak Park in 2008, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and open people were. One neighbor was dropping vegetables off on my porch, people were waving hi to each other and stopping to talk…this was in stark contrast where I moved from. In Natomas, the yards were well-manicured and front yards were open, but I never met any neighbors in 4 years of living there. In Oak Park, however, people were so open and friendly, yet my street was covered in chain link and iron fences in front of almost every house. The irony was not lost on me. I noticed that the beautiful architecture of these hundred-old houses was covered up and hidden behind street after street of chain link and metal. It was so sad to me that the true beauty of the neighborhood, besides the people who reside here, would be covered up like that. So, I researched other cities such as Toronto and Boston who have done fence removal projects in certain neighborhoods, and they reported a decrease in crime, and an increase in sense of community. I wanted to do that here too.
Ryan: What is your role in the project, and who else volunteers?
Amanda: I came up with the idea of Neighbors Without Borders five years ago, and didn’t get much support around it. Then this past year, decided to try and resurrect it. I came together with a committee and we talked about how to get the idea out there, and we educated ourselves on how to take down fences. We removed about five this summer. Victor Duron is my co-partner and has been an essential part of this process. I couldn’t have done it without his support.
Ryan: Did you ever imagine you’d be doing this?
Amanda: I think I’ve always had a mindset toward change. I’m a social worker by nature, and when I see something that can be better, I want to get my hands dirty and go there.
Ryan: Why is removing chain link fencing a big deal for the neighborhood?
Amanda: There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a chain link fence; many people need fences to keep in dogs or children, and chain link is the most cost-effective fence you can put up. However, when you look down a street and see a solid line of fence metal, the street appears to be almost prison-like, or a compound. The underlying message that is communicated is, “Keep Out” or “This is a not a safe neighborhood”. Aesthetically, it can appear cold and unwelcoming. So a first time visitor to Oak Park would likely get the opposite idea about the types of people who live here. Also, I think the biggest misconception is that “Fences keep you safe”. Research shows otherwise, and I have talked to many people who have had their house broken into even though they have a fence. A fence is not going to stop someone who wants to get in. I think fences can definitely bring about a false sense of security. If you look at the safest neighhorhoods in Sacramento, they don’t have any fences in their front yards.
Ryan: It seems kind of touchy to ask someone if a chain link fence can be torn out. How do you pull that off without offending residents or making them feel isolated?
Amanda: This is a good question because having a fence is a personal decision for everyone, and each person has a reason for having a fence. My goal is that people examine their reasons to see if they are no longer applicable. Maybe they put the fence up in the 80’s when the neighborhood was much less safe. Maybe the previous owner had a dog and they have just left it up as a matter of convenience. We don’t force people to remove their fences, or pass judgment on why people leave them up. Basically, our services are an offer for anyone who wants them.
Ryan: What would your quick response be if someone said, “My house has always had a chain link fence. It’s not bringing down the neighborhood.”
Amanda: I wouldn’t even argue that. It’s their decision. Maybe their particular fence isn’t bringing down the neighborhood, but collectively, the 14 other fences on the same street might not be sending the most open message.
Ryan: How do you let other people know about your project’s services?
Amanda: We have announced our services at Oak Park meetings, and have mailed letters offering our services. Also, word of mouth. In a community like Oak Park, people know what’s going on and talk to each other.
Ryan: Do you only focus on chain link fences?
Amanda: Right now, yes.
Ryan: Is chain link difficult to remove? What do you do with it once it’s taken down?
Amanda: It’s surprisingly so easy! I bought some bolt cutters and a sawzall, and two people can take it down from start to finish in about half an hour! We have people who pick up the fence to sell as scrap metal to recycling centers.
Ryan: Lastly, in just a few words, how would you sum up what is happening in the Oak Park neighborhood right now?
Amanda: So much energy! People who live here can’t stop talking about all of the change.
I hope you enjoyed the interview. Thank you Amanda for your time, and keep up the incredible work. If anyone wishes to connect with Neighbors Without Borders, email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s easy to see the need for change, but rare to find individuals willing to help start to make change happen. If you are considering helping your neighborhood connect or grow in the right direction, why not get started? You just might be the right person at the right time to get the ball of change rolling. If not you, then who? Thank you also to The Oak Park team (Micah & Sam) for letting me use some photos.
Questions: What stood out to you most about the interview? What are your thoughts on chain link fences? Oak Park residents, how would you describe the neighborhood right now?