I vividly recall being named real estate editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1985. With no experience whatsoever regarding the beat, I cast aside my 17-plus years as a sports writer and dove head-first into my new career covering homebuilding, real estate and anything else related to what promised to be a growing industry.
At the time, Las Vegas was climbing out of a recession and the city and county leaders all championed the promised future growth of Southern Nevada. With no state income tax and weather that was to-die-for – especially for people who had lived in snow country where getting from Point A to Point B was a challenge during the winter months – Las Vegas was soon to be the hotbed of the beat.
Once again the city became the Promised Land and businesses started packing up and relocating to the desert. The cost of living was much less than other areas like the Northeast and Los Angeles and jobs were prevalent, whether it was gaming, construction or driving a cab.
And when an earthquake hit Southern California in the early-1990s, moving trucks were at a premium, as many residents bailed out of the area and also headed for Southern Nevada. The need for housing became more important by the day.
To keep prices down, builders concentrated on the affordability factor by shrinking lot sizes. In the same breath, the industry concentrated on block walls between residences. No one was sure if the block walls were to keep people out, keep burglars from breaking in or simply keep nosy neighbors from peering into an adjoining residence.
However, the continued usage of block walls bothered Clark County Commission Chairman Manny Cortez, who once said “We’re becoming a city of block walls, and I don’t like it”; or something to that effect.
Because we’re so isolated in Southern Nevada, it’s understandable that we often don’t know how other communities are built in other states. We just kind of take it for granted that block walls are proper for our environment.
Or maybe they keep us from having to look at the junk our neighbors have ranging from car parts to broken down lawnmowers or whatever the hell else hoarders collect nowadays.
Then, too, I suppose there is some concern that burglars, who are already breaking into homes at a break-neck speed, would capitalize on a subdivision that has no block walls.
But while we’re on the subject of block walls, we just discovered a suburb of Detroit that has a refreshing alternative. Built by Pulte Homes the neighborhood called Pine Hurst in South Lyon, Mich., has no block walls and in fact, it has no barriers whatsoever between homes built on 1/3 acre lots.
With a community that consists primarily of two-story homes, the view from one lot to the other is unobstructed. The end result are neighbors who mingle casually and actually know one another.
And if anyone in this Michigan neighborhood is planning to let the outside of their home turn into an eyesore, there’s a homeowner association to correct the wrong.
Las Vegas is criticized because in many cases, one neighbor doesn’t know the other at all. Garage doors open and close before anyone has a chance to say “Hello” or “go to hell.”
It’s almost as though most residents don’t want to mix with their neighbors and block walls add to the equation. Meanwhile, squatters break in and take up residence long before the rest of the neighbors even realize that their original next door neighbor packed up in the middle of the night and left a foreclosed property behind.
So while the block walls continue to be built, it’s interesting to compare the wide-open spaces of South Lyon, which is situated 20 minutes from Detroit. Also interesting is the fact that Pulte Homes is doing well in both Las Vegas and South Lyon utilizing block walls in the desert while avoiding them in Michigan.
“We love our home in South Lyon,” said Sharelle Henle, who moved to the community after her husband, Jeff, joined AAA Insurance in the Midwest. The lack of block walls in South Lyon was a pleasant change for the family.
But what do people with dogs do with their pets when no one is home? Surely, there must be some benefit to block walls.
“The homeowners simply take their dogs for walks and keep them in the house when needed,” Sharelle Henle. “Because we don’t’ have block walls, we mix with our neighbors often in what has become a breath of fresh air for a couple that was used to block walls in Las Vegas.”
Added Jeff, “Neighbors actually talk with one another here.”
Our oldest son, John, an executive with Farmers Insurance, has moved nine times in the past 15 years. He says that his family’s best neighborhoods have been those where block walls were not built between homes.
The open spaces seemed to lend to a healthier atmosphere where neighbors mixed with another.
“Whenever we lived in a subdivision without block walls, it was totally different than when we lived in neighborhoods with blocks walls,” he said. “There’s no comparison between a home with block walls and another home without them.”
It appears that there’s no end to the construction of cold block wall communities in Southern Nevada and many of us wonder if the so-called “amenity” will ever be traded for the openness of neighborhoods like the ones in South Lyon.
Needless to say, builders take chances every time they purchase the land for a new community. Just once, I’d like to see one builder/developer take a chance in Las Vegas by adopting something other than block walls, which seem to imprison a neighborhood.