October 25, 2005

Improving Suburbia

If you missed it, Globe West Weekly had a piece last week on Tearing Down the Walls That Separate Us, focusing on ways to make suburbia more friendly and less isolating. Focusing on Dave Wann's book Superbia! 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods, reporter Kristen Green outlines a broad range of Wann's suggestions, such as getting out and introducing yourself to neighbors, creating a neighborhood newsletter, or more radically tearing down backyard fences to make large common spaces.

The issue of neighborhood design is absolutely critical to making friendlier neighborhoods. If people are always out and about walking, and other people's homes are near the street with windows and front porches facing the sidewalk, interaction is going to be a lot more likely. Kristen interviewed me for over half an hour for the story, although none of my design comments made it into the piece (fortunately, the director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance is quoted discussing this critical issue). But I'm glad one important point of mine made it in there: You don't have to completely give up your privacy in order to achieve better neighborhood design, whether we're talking about private yards or density of development.

Sure, there could be more optimal density and usage mixes. But we can start right now with the uses and densities we have and make better neighborhoods, by simple changes to how buildings are designed and sited. Put the "strip malls" up to the sidewalk with parking in the rear, make a more appealing streetscape with buffers between traffic and walkers as well as variations of how windows front the street (think the bay windows along Newbury Street in Back Bay instead of one long boring flat wall), and you'll have a much more appealing suburban street for pedestrians. Make front yards an attractive part of the public streetscape and you can still have private yards in the back.

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