Green Building: Going…Going…Green!
Maximum visual access to the Living Court from inside the house is crucial to casual surveillance and spontaneous neighborliness. Most Living Court homes have a living room and dining area with large windows overlooking the Living Court. In most homes the Owner's Suite also overlooks the Living Court. Finally and even more importantly, most homes have an "interior window" over the kitchen sink that looks across the dining area or living room out through large windows into the Living Court.
Outside the front entry is the semi-private garden patio or porch. This quick access to the front garden patio makes it easy to "pop in and out" many times a day. The semi-private seating area on the garden patio or porch increases opportunities for casual, spontaneous socializing. On nice evenings people relax for hours in this comfortable place as they enjoy nature and just watch the world go by. A study of courtyard homes has found that when there is a comfortable garden patio or porch in the front on the courtyard, people will spend more than two-thirds of their outdoor time there - and they will more than double the amount of time they spend outdoors.
Unlike some townhouses and other condominiums, every HomeTown home has a rear yard or a side yard. You can make the yard as private as you want by installing a 6' fence. Most of the yards are enclosed by garages on two sides and the house to the rear is about 70' away, so there is almost complete visual privacy. Because the yard has walls on all sides, it feels like an intimate outdoor room and it lives like an extension of the house inside.
These yards have a wonderful feeling that combines intimacy, nature, security, animal life, plants, dining, and flowers that is rarely found in outdoor spaces today.
HomeTown's Living Courts are especially important places for small children. Children cannot sense that something is "arriving" until it hits them - this is why children are so vulnerable to speeding cars because their sense of motion and movement is so very limited. This is why children intuitively feel so safe in a Living Court. There is a hierarchy of spaces that children intuitively relate to. First, there's the private garden patio or porch on the front of the house. Because it is attached to the house, and separated from the Living Court, the patio or porch is an emotionally safe zone from which children can venture forth. The "gateway" at the entry to the Living Court is a natural emotional barrier that small children usually won't go beyond because they can no longer see the front door of their house. The entire Living Court thus becomes a safe playground. Children prefer hard surfaces (concrete sidewalks, patios, etc.) to grass for 65% to 80% of the time - the oversized walks, patios, porches, and gathering places meet these needs. The 5' sidewalk is a "kid's street" - it's wide enough for tricycles and Big Wheels to pass each other. The kids draw a lot of chalk art on the common patio and sidewalk. Easter egg hunts and Halloween parties and birthdays are all celebrated in the Living Courts.
In HomeTown the outside spaces around the home are most important to small children. Research has shown that children under 5 feel safer and more secure if they are within eyesight of the front door of their home and within 30' of the front door. For children to develop their interpersonal skills they need to be able to play freely with other children where parents can observe them without interrupting them. For children to develop motor skills and to satisfy their inquisitiveness, they need areas close to home they can use casually and for brief spurts of time without relying on adults, because adults do not have as much time as children need to meet their intermittent, random developmental time needs. The porch with its railing or the garden patio with its landscaping provide an intimate outdoor room where kids quickly imagine a "house" for play. There is a wide range of play around the front door involving the structure and the landscape and critters - ants, ladybugs, caterpillars, etc. Toddlers love to just run up and down the front walk and sit on the steps. Preschoolers love to ride their tricycles and bicycles up and down the "kid's street."
A HomeTown Living Court is a special place for families with small children. The Living Court is truly a child-friendly environment that offers more opportunities for play and spontaneous interaction than any other housing type.
VI. Living Lanes
The other archetypal Mini Neighborhood is a group of 10-12 homes on a private Living Lane. The most desired house location in suburbia is a cul-de-sac. A Living Lane is a cul-de-sac that ends with a hammerhead instead of a huge paved 90' circle. As a result no one will drive on the Living Lane unless they are visiting someone who lives on it because it is too laborious to stop, back up, turn around and drive back out!
Why do people want cul-de-sacs? They're the only streets in suburbia without high speed traffic: and, because outside cars don't influence them so much, people feel like they are more in control of them and they feel safer. Because the Living Lanes are private the city did not object to them. The Living Lane is a curved, winding street whose view is terminated with a house at the end. A Living Lane shares all the other features that are common to livable, neighborly Mini-Neighborhoods – gateway landscaping, a gathering place, safe places for children to play without constant adult supervision, front livable porches and garden patios.
The garages are on the side of the house which are set back beyond the plane of the front house façade to minimize their impact.
You are probably wondering how we got this past the fire department? This Living Lane is connected to another Living Lane to the West via a Fire Lane that looks like a driveway; so the fire truck can drive through. This fire lane/driveway also serves as a pedestrian and bikeway connection to the next Living Lane.
As a result, we have a very fine pedestrian and bikeway grid, which is a crucial encouragement to pedestrianism. However, we have severely limited the automobile to our main Neighborhood street.
The private Living Lanes allow us to attract what we call the middle third of the market – those buyers who want a more neighborly lifestyle but also want a lot of privacy. These are the buyers who like a little more neighborliness, but they still want conventional suburban houses with front accessed garages. We provide the best of all worlds – the quintessential cul-de-sac, a narrow private lane that's safe for kids and tough on outside cars, a neighborly cluster of houses with a shared gathering place and play place, all combined with a conventional suburban house with front access garage.
This is a picture of Walnut Lane in Boulder on Walnut Street, about a mile east of downtown Boulder. It is the quintessential Living Lane. It is worth a trip to Boulder to see. This is the kind of fire engine a street should be designed for.
VII. Authentic Neighborhood
A group of Pocket Neighborhoods along a public street constitutes a Neighborhood of 120 to 150 homes with 300 to 400 people. Within a typical Neighborhood, there are always several different types of housing. In the first Neighborhood, which constitutes all of Phase 1, there are single family detached Living Court homes on the east side and single family detached Living Lane homes on the west side. Within each of these types of housing, there are homes that are designed for empty nesters, some designed primarily for first-time buyers who are mostly singles or young marrieds without children, and others designed primarily for first or second move-up buyers with small children. The prices of homes within this one Neighborhood will range from $100,000 to $250,000. While the Pocket Neighborhoods are usually relatively homogeneous, the Neighborhoods are generally somewhat heterogeneous with a rich diversity of ages, incomes, and family types - just like older small towns.
People need an identifiable special area to belong to. They need to be able to identify where they live as distinct from others. HomeTown is a series of identifiable neighborhoods. Each Neighborhood has its own unique identity like a small town. And each Neighborhood lives and feels like a small town.
Alexander's research has shown that identifiable neighborhoods share several common characteristics:
1. They have relatively small populations.
2. They are relatively small in land area.
3. They must be protected from high speed traffic and dominance by automobiles.
4. They must have boundaries such as green belts, parks, or other demarcations.
5. They must have restricted access with relatively few roads or paths leading into them with gateways at the boundaries.
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More by Perry Bigelow
- A Developer's Perspective on Healthy Communities
- The Builder-Developer as a Steward of God's Resources
- Builder of the Year Acceptance Speech
- Building and Development Philosophy: Cultural and Environmental Sustainability
- 13th Annual Affordable Comfort Conference
- 1st Annual National Green Building Conference
- Bibliography - Neighborhood Planning, Community & Ecology
- The Spirituality of Sustainability
- Stewardship of Creation
- God and Money
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
- Excerpts from "Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community"
- Devotional - Listening to God Daily
- Bibliography for "God and Money" and "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger"