If homes need to create communities, it needs to have a connection to the outside world. Such connections can happen through various architectural elements to give birth to what urban America knows as “eyes on the street.”
When I say ‘connection,’ I specifically mean a space for human interaction; between neighbors, community members, with nature, with children and other people. It needs to be part of some activity, like greeting your neighbor as he walks his dog, watching your child play while you water the plants, sitting and reading a book, lounging with a newspaper over morning coffee/tea, catching up with friends, drying papadams, etc. The activity is intrinsic to the culture, the people and the place. That’s when a connection is made and a community is born.
Agreed that it is hard to create such spaces in colder countries. Seasonal changes don’t allow for annual use of such spaces. I’m told not to complain, given the good nature of California weather when compared to other parts of this big continent. But I still think these indoor-outdoor spaces are vital, and it is exists in anyplace where humans need interaction.
I live in an apartment complex, on the top floor of a two story block of condos, with large windows that bring the eastern and western light into our home. Leading up to my apartment is a straight flight of stairs with fifteen steps and no mid-landing. My son and I count the steps everyday while going up and down, and it’s one our most favorite everyday routines. Besides counting the steps, we both pause either at the top landing or the bottom of the staircase for a bit, when we wait for each other to come join the day. We also pause sometimes just so we can watch the trees, aeroplanes and greet our neighbors (and dogs) passing us. Under this stair lies my son’s tricycle and basketball hoop for play. On occasion, I hose down this space to clear the cobwebs and leaves build up owing to the seasonal change. The roof above covers all steps except the last four, leaving this staircase protected from most rains, winds and direct sunlight. Along one length of this staircase is a double story wall and the other is a simple functional metal railing. About twelve to fifteen feet away from that wall is another long wall, making this space a passage leading to the four doors of four families from all over the world. Now this is one such pause space, a common area where a community can belong.
Now let’s look at the large single family homes in suburban America. Every activity is inward looking confining families indoor for most part of the year, lets say this time it is owing to weather. Street life and human connection is separated by at least a 25 -30 foot frontyard that contributes to nothing for community life. The only connection any human has outside of their home is the straight walk to get to their mailbox or their car and that large swath of a backyard. While it looks all fine and dandy in the talkies, living in them does not seem like fun!
I must bring attention to the bulk of backyards that are part of these homes. I’m repeatedly shocked by the large mass of these spaces, whose primary role is to entertain perhaps two dozen humans at most for a handful times of the year, mostly birthdays and thanksgiving. For such a small role, these large spaces can easily be swapped to any of the rooms indoors or a community space. Perhaps there are a handful of backyards that still are good gardens, where one can produce nice vegetables and fruit for sustainance.
I’ve never seen a garage of family home that was used only as a car parking spot. I’ve noticed (with shock,) how wrongfully it turns from hobby to garbage space, only so that the indoor spaces could remain clutter free.
The single family home is a selfish species, one that neglect community and does not want to belong to any place outside of it’s own large bubble. The condos and apartments are loving members of a community, with empathy, care for the environment, respect for life, access to livelihood and economic centres of creation!
The mega-home, sold to the world like it’s everyone’s dream, one that takes a lifetime to populate and another to maintain, needs to be redefined.
The current movement of built space in cities such as San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas in the Bay Area is tending towards a denser footprint of homes, it has begun to emulate denser urban environments that one can see in major cities such as New York and Sam Francisco. Walkability, transit connections and community life has begun to gain more importance than that of car-ownership and the big fat American suburban dream of two cars, big refrigerators etc. is thankfully dying.