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Our oldest son, John, called the other day from Seattle, where his family has relocated from Phoenix after another of his many promotions with Farmers Insurance.
“Dad, you need to write a blog about block walls,” he said echoing a topic that has actually been on my mind for quite some time. “We have now moved eight times in 15 years and block walls make a big difference in a neighborhood.”
When someone was born and raised in Las Vegas before going to work for Farmers -- and moves about every two years to live in states such as Washington, Utah, California, Texas and Arizona – it’s interesting what a former resident has to say about Las Vegas and what it has to offer.
“Dad, when a neighborhood doesn’t have block walls, there is a different feeling and people are friendlier,” John analyzed with a very interesting look at life. “When we lived in Castaic, Calif., we had block walls and nobody knew one another.
“And when we moved to Phoenix, it was the same thing. Nobody talked to one another and in most cases, nobody seemed to care either. ”
However, in Seattle block walls are virtually non-existent and the feel of a community is far different than in those cities where the walls dominate the landscape. To a degree, open communication is based on happy people exchanging pleasantries and block walls simply don’t do anything to facilitate the warm feelings that are generally spread without the restrictions that block walls create.
“Where we live now, people are always out in their front yards and if they’re in their back yards, they’re able to talk with their neighbors,” John continued. “Then, when you look out in the front yards, there are chairs where neighbors gather so they can talk and watch after one another’s kids.
“I’m telling you. A city without block walls is totally different. It’s really nice and makes such a difference in the way people interact with one another.”
Interestingly, our son isn’t the first to warn that block walls most of which are a very bland gray are not pleasing to the eye. Even worse yet is the fact that block walls are perfect for graffiti not to mention the fact that they require contant maintenance especially because of water stains.
And block walls are not pleasing to the soul, as others have pointed out over the years. Even a Southern Nevada expert on the feelings and reactions by humans agrees that the never-ending scene of block walls is about as pleasing as a toothache.
Block walls are ugly, they are cold, they block communications and they’re awful for society.
Long time clinical psychologist Mary Keiser of Las Vegas said that block walls are not good for society and they're certainly not good for a neighborhood.
“I think they’re absolutely awful,” said Mrs. Keiser, who lives in the northwest Las Vegas valley with husband, John. “They block people from one another and prevent them from talking to each other.
“So many times, people drive into their garage, close the door and you never hear or see of them. In fact, when we lived in Tuscon years ago, it was the same thing.”
Mrs. Keiser also added that a new resident in their neighborhood stands in front of her home and waves at people driving down the street in a move attempting to reach out to others. That move illustrates the fact that those people living in communities with block walls must reach out to others in order to bridge the gap.
The late Clark County Commission Chairman Manny Cortez said in the 1970s that block walls were bad for Las Vegas. A resident of the city since 1944, Cortez didn’t like the looks or the feel of cinderblock used in the construction of cold and bland block walls.
‘We’re turning into a city of block walls,” Cortez moaned during one commission meeting adding that the look simply wasn’t good for the city.
Little did Cortez know that during the growth spurt of Southern Nevada in the early 2000s that block walls would continue in their domination of every street in Las Vegas.
However, also important to note in Las Vegas is that the harsh summer temperatures undoubtedly would play havoc on maintenance required on traditional wood fencing. Cyclone fences might be a good alternative, but since it hasn’t been tried much in Southern Nevada, nobody knows for sure.
“So what,” John reacted to the idea that Southern Nevada might be stuck with the god awful look of block walls. “We have rovers on the planet Mars sending back pictures, analyzing soil and proving that water existed. Can't NASA build a wall that withstands heat and harsh weather but provides a softer visual of a neighborhood? Would Tim Allen from the show Home improvement, have met his neighbor "Wilson" with a brick wall?
“Nope. Theirs is no openness. Block walls prevent you from being a part of a community.”
While the block wall element has been an issue since Manny Cortez voiced his displeasure more than 40 years ago, there have been more factors that have played a part in eliminating or at least detracting from the idea of neighbors conversing with one another in Southern Nevada.
Yet another drawback has been the elimination of front porches where people used to gather in the fronts of homes – and still do in other cities throughout the country. Some builders in Southern Nevada have brought the front porches back into the equation simply because they want to make it easier for neighbors to see another and have the freedom to chat.
Former Southern Nevada homebuilder Eric Horn concurs that block walls aren’t necessarily the best element to use although he also points out that small lot sizes have dictated the practice not only in Las Vegas but all over the country. The closer homes are built the more the need for a block wall --- or are that really the case?
In the meantime, John is championing the cause adding that communities need to be softened up and allowed to not only talk but also breathe. In fact, some of your best friends can be your neighbors and it’s simply a shame that some people don’t know the people who live directly next door or the ones who reside down the street.
“All I know is that when we lived in Maple Valley (a suburb of Seattle), we didn’t have block walls and everyone in a neighborhood knew each other,” John pointed out. “It was the same when we lived in South Jordan near Salt Lake City.
“And we didn’t have block walls in Austin, Tex., either and we had the same friendliness there, too. Block walls aren’t good for a city and they’re not good for the people who live in the city either.”
John’s point is well taken and considering that he and his family have moved so much in the past 15 years, it’s easy to see why his concerns are not only valid but realistic at the same time.
So enough of the block walls or at least the mundane gray block walls. In the same breath, neighbors need to make an effort to speak with their neighbors and in what would be a very novel idea, a block party would be a great way to get to know neighbors better (let’s just say the idea is good “food for thought” in a community that lacks interaction).
Nonetheless, it’s certainly interesting when the kids move away from home, settle in other communities and compare their old stomping grounds with their new surroundings.
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