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PApril 16, 2012

Making Places That Last: Gifts to the Street

Some places are just special.  You can stand in the middle of them, not really knowing why, and admire your surroundings.  We are often heard saying, “Man…I’d love to live here.”

Understanding the elements that evoke that kind of reaction is important because we allowed our communities to devolve into sterile subdivisions.  We thought our current pattern of development was the result of bright minds and that the most we could control was where the development went.  Guess what, we can do better.  How?  By applying the principals of the great places you admire to future development and redevelopment.

Author Steve Mouzon, in his book, the Original Green tells us that great places and great buildings have common themes.  And if these common themes are executed well, then the places and the buildings have a much higher probability of being sustainable. Take Old New Castle for example.  It shares many of Mouzon’s themes and therefore has sustained itself since it’s significant buildings began to emerge in the early 1700’s.

Mouzon goes on to elaborate on the lovability factor.  I’m sure we all have places and buildings that we would consider lovable, but I’d like to say that the most lovable of places are generous.  They are giving.  This stands in stark contrast to the unintended selfishness of suburbia.  Confused?  Let me give you an example.  Some like to call one act of generosity, the “Gifts to the Street”.

In many suburban subdivisions, we are greeted by neighborhoods with houses significantly set back off the street, where the door for the car is more pronounced than the door to the home.  This simple change in planning and architecture for our homes suggests that we are more introverted and don’t care to interact with the street (or neighbor) and that the car is more welcome than a visitor.  Now I am not saying that this is the case for the occupant, but the signal that the planning and architecture sends is significant.

Let’s contrast this with those “Man…I’d love to live here” places.  The most generous of the residents offer others in the community themselves (by pulling their homes up to the street). They say that the visitor is more welcome than the car (by relegating the garage to the rear). And they often deliver a “Gift to The Street”, a small token to the neighbor, the pedestrian and the neighborhood that says, “I care about you!”  Here are some examples:

 

Gift-of-Art-224x3002  Gift of History: While, in days of old, this hitch would be a place you could park your horse, this particular home in Old New Castle wanted to share the local history with passers by.Gift-of-rest-300x2243

Gift of Innovation: This Driveway in Wilmington was just damn cool. In order to keep the cars in the back, they created a drive/walk/ramp! Tell me this doesn't make the pedestrian smile when they go by.Gift-of-Patriotism-224x3001

 

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