Weaseling Past Your Local Board/Council: Method #1 (Garage Dominance Edition)
by, 02 Apr 2008 at 11:17 AM (3517 Views)
I have been in planning just short of four years now. I got into this profession in order to satisfy my interest in the built environment and help influence its future, but I cannot help but admit to suffering from a small amount of cynicism that planners sometimes get while working in local government-particularly in the western United States.
My interest, and background, was in single-family suburban residential. That interest alone makes me a minority among planners who tend toward the Urbanist/High-Density trends that dominate the profession, but it is where I grew up and where I live now and thus really the only living environment I know. That and a heck of a lot of people live in similar areas all over the U.S.
Part of feeding my interest in planning as well as the suburbs was taking an interest in suburban design and the design of the homes that make up the typical suburban landscape. Over the past 10-20 years, the main theme of the articles and critiques of residential design have been over the dominance of the garage and its role in the “streetscape” of suburban America. Ask any planner, resident or even the local politicians and (in my experience) a non-garage dominated streetscape is preferred and more comfortable to the beholder. However, suburban areas still feature homes constructed in such a manner and people continue to purchase them!
Planners have since tried to pass design regulations in order to curb the construction of “snout” houses and thus alter the streetscape into a manner fitting of an attractive environment. Local governments have been somewhat amenable to such changes, but in many areas of the country some local governments balk at such changes. (Often times the reasons range from a fear of over-regulation of builders to a fear that the creation of regulation would scare developers away to the policy makers being dominated by builders themselves). While successes in neighborhood design regulations are experienced in many parts of the country, others are still a free-for-all when it comes to homebuilding and streetscape design leaving the local planners disenfranchised and giving them a touch of that cynicism discussed before.
One way to curb the snout-nose house and to ensure a non-garage dominated streetscape, while sneaking in a mandate that may not be labeled as over-regulatory past your local policy makers is to focus on the front door of the house being built. By focusing on the front door of the principal residence in your design codes, one can create mild regulation that in turn builds homes that are inviting to the eye and to the neighborhood at large. How one could do this is a simple statement:
The front door leading into the principal residence shall be visible from all points on a 180 degree radius of the front façade.
Oftentimes city codes or neighborhood plans address the usage, placement, and variety of building materials, architectural elements and styles and even colors that house design needs to adhere to, so the addition of this simple yet effective sentence could help curb the designs that make planners cringe. If your code does not have any sort of materials or features restrictions (er… I mean guidance) then the above statement may serve as an important step away from the confines of garage dominance. It is a simple statement, but its results can be profound.