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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Front Yard Challenges

Probably one of the most frequent comments that you hear from people the first time that they visit a new urbanist community is, "the yards are too small." I am pretty sure that I said that the first time that I visited Kentlands ten years ago. As you learn more about new urbanism, you tend to understand more about the different "spaces" that people use during the course of the day. There are public spaces and private spaces and we clearly need to be able to access and use both types of spaces.

Starting with public spaces. It is pretty easy to see that parks, walking trails, sidewalks, plazas and alleys are public spaces. These are places where you expect to interact with other people. Okay, but what about private spaces? The private space is accomplished by the spaces in your home and perhaps office. Your home is considered your private realm and good design should allow you to have private spaces that are located inside as well as "outside." People don't want to have to spend all of their "private" time indoors. Good design should allow courtyards, garden areas and outside social areas within the structure of the home that allow the homeowner to be outdoors in a private space.

The key is not the size of the space, it is whether it is well-designed for how it is intended to be used. As I noted in an earlier message, people often say they want a yard...actually they want to be able to plant some flowers. They don't really want to have to mow the yard and pull the weeds or pay a lawn service each month to care for the yard. These interior courtyards and patios allow people to have areas where they can plant flowers or herbs without having the responsibilities of large yards.

I call this post, the "Front Yard Challenge" for a reason. I was asked to do this about 8 years ago and it was a good exercise. When you drive around different neighborhoods, see how many people are really playing in front yards, especially if there is a park nearby. In my neighborhood, most people exercise on the trails and take their kids to a park to play rather than in the front yard. Yesterday, out of about 32 homes, I saw people in the yards of two homes. One was mowing the yard and the other was pulling weeds and pruning bushes. The other 30 homes did not have activity in the front yard though I did see one mom with her two kids riding their bikes and parking them in the garage. Think about how you really want to use your outdoor spaces and I bet you will be surprised to find that a small yard can meet all of those needs.

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