By Dan Goodman
Large spans of grassland surrounding a home or village have been used throughout history. African civilizations used this to observe predators approaching or animals to be hunted in the distance. This continued into Europe where lawns around castles allowed watchmen to better spot any approaching enemies. Practical. Safe.
This morphed over the years as the use of lawns became an ostentatious way to display the wealth of nobility in the Middle Ages. A stone castle wall with a field of manicured grass in front of it. Scale the size down a bit and replace that stone wall with a white picket fence and voila, you have suburbia.
Just look at all those pristine little patches of useless land. Too small and awkwardly exposed for any real function, these lawns are here simply to be mowed. Americans love their space, and we have a lot of it, but when does extra space become a burden and not an asset? I think it’s when the space is divided up into private islands of irrelevance instead of consolidated into something more suitable for outdoor use.
Now I’m not criticizing private property, but what good is a private speck of grass for anybody? Lets look at a different example.photo link
These pictures show Lake Vista, a neighborhood in the far north of New Orleans, in which the houses are built around various open public parks. There are still some front yards throughout Lake Vista, but the parks act as a use of green space where people actually hang out. Lake Vista certainly isn’t the cheapest neighborhood to live in these days, but affordable housing is currently being constructed there to help widen the socioeconomic range of residents.
Here is a more urban example of what shared green space can look like. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d rather hang out in their front yard than in a nice spacious courtyard like this one.
Front yards are harmful from the street perspective as well, turning a typical neighborhood block into a vast wasteland of sprinklers and garden gnomes. photo link
Who wants to take a walk down this street? There aren’t even any sidewalks. Now look at a street that has ditched the front yards and more efficiently used its space.photo link
Now the beautiful architecture in Charleston, SC certainly plays a role in making this street more appealing than the former, but it’s also a matter of scale. By starting the houses right at the sidewalk urban designers can create an urban vibe that encourages people to live in their neighborhood and not just in their living room. Who wants to walk down a street surrounded by front lawns?