(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-5pm Eastern

shared yards

Shared Yard: What Are The Benefits?

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jun 6, 2021

Good fences make good neighbors, or so goes the saying. In many parts of North America, many people have no idea who their neighbors are. While we might send a casual greeting when we meet at the mailbox, the lives of the people who live closest to us often remain a mystery. Recently, however, many homeowners in urban and suburban communities have begun to tear down those fences that dot the landscape between house lots in favor of a new trend: shared yards. They are growing in popularity and offer many social and ecological benefits. Below, we look at some of the benefits that come with sharing your backyard with your neighbor.

Shared Outdoor Meal

What is a Shared Yard? 

In multifamily housing units, shared spaces are the norm. Pools, gyms, libraries, and even rooftop gardens are spaces where families that share the same building come together to build community in the space that they share, by definition. In single-family residences, however, shared spaces are lacking. A 2013 Gallup Poll found that among the non-financial reasons for homeownership, many mentioned the ability to have the freedom to do what they want as one of the main reasons for owning a home.

In the United States, residential lawns average 10,871 square feet (or roughly a quarter of an acre). For homeowners in tight urban and suburban areas, the area around your home is often just big enough to fit a car (or two). This fact leaves many homeowners with essentially zero space for gardeningoutdoor dining, and play areas.

Sharing a part of the space around your home with your neighbor has the immediate effect of increasing the size of available outdoor space. That might be reason enough for shared yards, but there's more to the equation: ecological and social benefits.

Ecological Impacts of Yards

Fences and boundaries don't exist in the natural world. In fact, the enclosure of large open areas has hindered wild animals from engaging in their historical migration patterns and might be responsible for the death of millions of wild animals. On a much smaller scale, enclosing an acre of the yard might seem relatively harmless. However, one study found that fences can lead to one dead deer per every 7.8 miles of fencing annually. Poorly constructed fences can cause damage to a wide range of animals, including deer, foxes, squirrels, and other wildlife common to suburban areas. Choosing to take down fencing around your yard, then, will allow native wildlife corridors to emerge, even in places where urban development has occurred.


What are the Environmental Benefits of a Shared Yard?

Environmental benefits that come with creating shared yard spaces include:

  • Improving solar access: In suburban and urban areas where homes are close together, many yards will suffer from a lack of sun. Opening up your yard to be shared with neighbors can allow for greater sun access. This access can, in turn, lead to small-scale solar systems that can provide renewable energy to two or more families.
  • Improved Food Growing Opportunities: Families that share their yards will increase the amount of space dedicated to growing food. Shared compost piles will boost the amount of fertile soil that you can create, and sharing gardening work can reduce workloads.

What Are the Financial Benefits of a Shared Yard?

  • Shared Infrastructure: One of the essential aspects of regenerative homes is finding ways to recycle the elements that pass through the house back into the land. Many homeowners, however, don't have the necessary space to incorporate rainwater harvesting cisterns or gray water recycling systems. Shared yards allow homeowners to share the cost and space for more sustainable infrastructure that will allow their homes to become regenerative parts of the landscape.
  • Integrated Irrigating Strategies: Shared yards enable homeowners to develop integrated irrigation strategies to reduce the water needed for watering their shared space - and share the cost. Water-smart home landscapes are easier to design when you don't have to worry about inadvertently watering your neighbors' flower beds.
  • Sharing Tools and Costs: Shared yards allow homeowners to cut back on the number of tools that need to be purchased. Instead of every family buying a lawnmower, a leaf blower, rakes, etc. (and finding the space to store them all), sharing your yard with a group of neighbors can help you save money through purchasing certain items together. Shared work and shared tools might also help homeowners reduce the amount of money they spend on landscaping services.
Shared Vegetable Garden

What Are the Social Benefits of a Shared Yard?

The agrarian writer and farmer Wendell Berry once wrote that "a community is a mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives." 

Sharing a community space with other neighbors will compel people to recognize the common bonds that bring us together. Sharing a rain garden or a system of raised vegetable beds, for example, will create a common goal that can foster a deeper connection. Neighbors that come together to devise a strategy to prevent erosion or reduce stormwater runoff can understand the importance of working together to protect their shared places.

Community yards can also help elderly neighbors to feel less isolated while also allowing children to have more space for playing. Shared yards can also open up opportunities for the sharing economy to flourish. Perhaps the trampoline that you own can be shared with your neighbor's children in exchange for the occasional use of a lawnmower. If your yard is the sunniest spot, that might mean that you and your neighbors convert it into a shared community garden. Then, the shady area behind their homes could be a perfect spot to build a playground collectively.

Native Flowers

What Are the Top Tips For Shared Yards?

There is no "recipe" for the design and implementation of a shared yard. The exact setup will largely depend on your and your neighbors' needs, the amount of available space, and the specific contextual conditions. However, there are a few guiding themes that can help design mutually beneficial shared yards.

  • Avoid Replication and Redundancy: The whole point of shared yards is to maximize the amount of space for diverse land use. There is no reason for you, and your neighbor to each have private storage sheds, separate playgrounds, and separate gray water recycling systems. Find ways to combine the usage of everyday yard items to make the most of the yard space at your disposal. 
  • Protect private areas: Just because you share a space with your neighbor doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice your privacy completely. Agreements between neighbors can allow certain areas to be "off-limits." In many cases, shared yards allow for private patios connected to the home to enable homeowners to enjoy a space that is all their own. 
  • Consider the native ecology: When designing a shared yard, it is crucial to consider the native ecology. What types of birds and wildlife might frequent this space, and how can the shared space accommodate them? What native vegetation could you plant to increase the ecological resiliency of the yard? Shared yards can bring together formerly isolated neighbors and reconnect people to the landscapes and ecosystems where they belong.

Are There Downsides to Shared Yards?

Of course, shared spaces require coordination. Some downsides include unfair division of labor and costs in maintaining the yard, whether gardening or purchasing tools. New neighbors could move in and not subscribe to the same philosophy that was agreed upon by your former neighbors. The cost of replacing a lawnmower (and the best model to do the job) might cause disagreement. As with anything that involves a team of people, communicating expectations clearly and frequently is always helpful.

Outdoor Oven

The resurgence of shared yards is bringing back the concept of community space to people who live in single-family residences. The idea of taking down fences and sharing a space with your neighbors offers a greater sense of outdoor living space, as well as financial, ecological, and social benefits. So go talk to your neighbors and explore this concept—you might be surprised by some shared ideas!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-17T13:44:43+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.