Visual Borders 1: A Separation Fence is Breached

Apparently a fence has been hampering access to jobs, relatives, even shops for people who live on the wrong side of it, while people on the right side of the fence can easily skirt its curving border. It has been doing this for over fifty years.

This separation fence is located at a corner of Hamden, Connecticut, where it meets New Haven.

You can read about the fence in several recent newspaper articles (and their comments) including here and here.  But I offer a summary: In the 1950s, the New Haven city government in its wisdom located a series of low-income housing projects for primarily African Americans at the edge of town, as far as possible from downtown New Haven and Yale University, as well as from affluent residential neighborhoods. But it was adjacent to Hamden, a middle-class mostly white suburb whose residents were unhappy about their new neighbors. To appease them, 1500 feet of carefully-placed fence, some it as high as 16’, was erected on three sides of the neighborhood. Effectively it prevented roads from connecting the group of housing projects to Hamden. Within the projects the roads stop far short of the Hamden border and the same roads pick up again after it. To traverse the 200 feet that separate one project from the opposite side of the street adjacent to it in Hamden you have to exit on the New Haven side and travel slightly over two miles. You need your own transportation because there is no bus. According to one source, a routine commute to a job in Hamden can take an hour and a half.

Now finally a breach in the fence will make it possible to extend one of these roads to meet its continuation in Hamden. The issue is still fraught with implications for past and present city governments and other constituencies.  Hence the recent newspaper articles.

But this post is about what comes to mind when I try to photograph the fence.  Interestingly, the fence is difficult to photograph effectively.


A fence between Hamden and New Haven. Viewed from Hamden.

The difficulty I am having suggests an issue of visibility. I want to photograph both sides of the fence, but I can’t. The fence hampers the residents of these two communities not just from visiting one another but also from seeing one another. On the Hamden side it is camouflaged by trees and forests that make it impossible to see a house on one side from a house on the other.  Do fantasies about the other side influence some of the frequently-reported negative feelings among Hamden residents about removing the fence? Perhaps. In any case it is unlikely that visibility will increase a great deal immediately after the road is finished. While it will allow New Haven residents to cross into Hamden, its speed bumps will inhibit residents of Hamden from crossing the housing projects en route to downtown New Haven.


The new road will have speed bumps.

The large tract of vacant land that separate the projects from the end of the road could also continue to act as a possibly daunting threshold.


The road under construction. Seen from Hamden, with New Haven houses in the distance.

Until the area between the two neighborhoods is built up, the visual barrier could seal off the area to Hamden residents as effectively as a physical one.

Separation Fence between New Haven and Hamden, CT

The fence seen from New Haven.

Separation Fence between New Haven and Hamden, CT

The fence seen from Hamden

I was away when the fence so near to my home in New Haven became news. By now the breach is wide enough to let foot traffic, albeit rather gingerly,


A New Haven resident enters Hamden through a breach in the fence.

to make its way around the sign saying “Construction Keep Out”


and into Hamden where neighbors can begin to see one another.

text and photographs © 2014 Margaret Olin

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