What Type of Privacy?
Fencing can meet different types of privacy and screening needs, and let's acknowledge here that not all of them are friendly. We often hear about several different privacy goals:
1. Barriers to physical entry: This type of fence literally seeks to exclude intruders and is generally not in the friendly fencing category. A typical barrier-to-entry scenario occurs in a lumber yard, for instance, where goods are protected by a high fence that is difficult to cross. Typical residential scenarios involve deer fencing or fencing that excludes roaming dogs.
2. Screening out sights: Fencing is often used to block undesirable images either inside or outside the property boundaries. For instance, people like to hide garbage cans, propane tanks, utility poles, gas stations, or industrial sites at the edges of residential or retail zones. Many people use tall, solid fence to screen views of a busy street or a parking lot.
3. Creating privacy: Even when we feel good about our neighbors and neighborhoods, it can be unsettling to feel visible. We don't like to feel we can be seen by anyone passing by, particularly when we can't see them. It is this type of privacy that can be most easily addressed with "friendly fences."
Principles of Friendly Fences
Several factors determine the overall visual statement made by a fence.
Local surroundings: A village, a busy state road, or a retail district call for very different approaches to privacy fences. Although the maximum height of the fence (and sometimes the style) is dictated by local regulations, there are many other factors that need to be considered in light of unwritten expectations by neighbors in the local surroundings. For instance, a tall solid fence may not get much notice along a busy thru-road. In a village setting, however, the same fence might evoke very negative reactions.
Height and distance of the fence: The closer the fence is to the viewer, the more views are blocked. This can be a good thing for the fence builder, but jarring to those whose views are blocked. When planning the placement of your fence, use this factor to determine whether the height and distance of the fence will create negative impressions. This principle is also useful if you wish to block an image within your property boundaries, so that you can't see the local gas station from where you relax on a porch or patio.
Materials: There are many materials that will help deflect attention from a space while not creating a solid barrier. (See photos for examples.) Open lattices and curved lines in a fence are key to creating the impression of a friendly boundary. They have a lighter touch on the landscape than solid fence.