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Thread: Thesis idea: 'Dude, where's my backyard?'

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Rewey's avatar
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    Thesis idea: 'Dude, where's my backyard?'

    Hey all,

    I think I've finally come up with an idea for my masters thesis, and thought I'd put it out there for general constructive/destructive criticism (be gentle!)

    This is based on the current trend in Western Australia (although, I'm sure it's happening everywhere) to knock down single dwellings on quarter acre blocks and construct 3-4 dwellings in its place, with little or no backyard (yes, the time honoured tradition of urban infill). The State planning Minister has said that she wants 60% of new homes in the next 20 years to be in established urban areas.

    Dude, whereís my backyard?

    Basically it seems that all the people responsible for pushing higher density living (Baby Boomer generations, and early-Xers) have already had their childhood with a big backyard on a quarter-acre block. Now that theyíve grown up, they seem to have forgotten about the importance of this on child development. Nowadays children canít go to parks, because itís not safe (a generalisation, of course - parents are too scared to let them go anywhere), and canít go out in the backyard, because the parents chopped it off to sell to someone else to make money. Iím not suggesting (yet) whether higher density is good or bad, but it seems the people responsible for making the decision have already had the benefit during their childhood, but are removing the benefit for the current generation of children.

    If you think this idea has legs, or can think of anything pertinent I should be looking at, your help would be most appreciated. I spent some time living in downtown Toronto (loved every second), and could therefore compare the situation here with the high-rise apartment living that is quite prevalent there (there's very little of it here in Perth, comparatively speaking).

    Could this topic be fleshed out later for a PhD thesis?

    Thanks for any help!

    Rewey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think you might consider another way of phrasing your initial question in a manner that does not seem unduly slanted. From the way you express this, it seems you are out to prove that the disappearing backyard is a bad thing (which is not a "good" research question model). Of course, many cultures around the world live (and even traditionally lived) in high density environments, so it is not an unusual human condition. Indeed, before the suburban revolution, many more people lived in high density apartment settings. I am not personally convinced that this means an end to childhood play, but perhaps does require the emergence of a different pattern. I think the increasing fear of public spaces also is at play here, as you noted.

    Anyway, be open to finding information that does not fit with your hunch. I moved last year from a half acre parcel right by the Rio Grande in a semi-rural area south of Albuquerque, NM. Not Australia, I realize, but...After having two children we decided to move into the city and now have a (by contrast especially) much much smaller yard. But the reasons we moved was the kids and there are some advantages to dense living that you did not touch on. Our kids are closer to friends and we can walk to their homes (rather than drive 20 minutes), they can walk to school, we can walk to parks and the store, and we try to make all of these potential family outings. We do more stuff together and we take advantage of some economies of scale that were not present in our previous living situation (like other families being nearby, allowing us to share some childcare responsibilities and generally be more socially active).

    So, why not something exploring "the social implications of a shrinking private outdoor sphere" or some such? Within this structure, you can talk about trends in increasing density, shifting patterns of private space use (getting at some of the Baby Boomer-fueled demand you cited), children's play (which I think is a very fruitful topic of which a good deal has been written), and more.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Good luck, its an interesting topic.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Perhaps a better title would be, "Like Dude, don't bogart my yard."

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Rewey's avatar
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    In defence of my suggested title, the subtle, yet key reference to the movie is HILLARIOUS! And it will never date, just like the classic "Where's the beef?", and "Don't have a cow, man!" Ha, ha! A cow. Imagine that...

    Anyway - thanks for your suggestions. I really appreciate it. I know this could be a massive topic, and there are so many good arguments for and against - I just need to focus on one aspect. There is a definition of 'sustainable development' which states 'provides for the needs of future generations', so I could look at whether it really is sustainable in that sense.

    I also like your idea of looking at the social implications, which will allow me to examine both the good and the bad arguments.

    Any other comments would be great!

    Rewey

  5. #5
    Member
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    the density debate rages on

    EDIT -- I just saw the date on your post. I didn't realise you wrote this over 6 months ago. oops


    Hey Rewey,

    I just wrote you a massive post about Jane Jacobs and the benefits to kids of growing up in high density environments,and how cities can be safer for kids, and on the UN's 10 year study 'growing up in cities' but alas, I accidentally deleted it.

    My point however, was that I think any research which addresses the impact of planning decisions on children is a good thing, but that a more objective and academic approach as suggested by wahday of "the social implications of a shrinking private outdoor sphere" would be more sound.

    I would also like to see you investigate the alternative perspectives on some of your assumptions which to me sound like value judgements; that
    1. the private garden is a healthy thing for children, (which has been debated)
    2. that parks are intrinsically dangerous. What about shared gardens?


    If you did go ahead with a project like the one you suggest, you might consider doing case studies which contrast public green space to private green space, and the experiences of children growing up in different levels of density, and with different ratios of built/green space.

    If you do have a little bit of a bias against infill and high density, I would urge you to consider the possibility that we don't really have a choice. The population is growing at about 65 people per day and the strain of peak oil is starting to effect us at the petrol pump. Even if you do have an arguement that the private garden is an intrinsically good environment for children, what about the other consequences of maintaining the separate low density house with a garden on the ecology of the region when suburbs sprawl out further and further? Suburbia has been shown to be antithesis to ecological, economic, social and cultural sustainability, so you might want to find out what it is about the suburban back yard that so many of us grew up with that was good, and what it is we can do to ensure that future urban environments don't rob children of what they need.

  6. #6
    I know you wrote this post a long time ago....but I have to say that I love the title!

    To me, this sounds like it will become much more of a psychology thesis rather than a planning thesis, from what you've described. While planning involves the connection of people to the built environment, I see this turning into a lot of work.....

    I'll say though, that as adults, we sometimes forget how imaginative children can be. Growing up in city with a patch of grass on the side of my house and a concrete playground at school, we can up with some pretty fun games, none of which required grass or privacy. Many of my suburban friends had these huge, really nicely landscaped backyards with coy ponds etc., but no friends to come over and share it, whereas I had about 10 kids to play with literally within 5 seconds of my house.

    I really like the idea though!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    In the US, specifically TX it seems lots are getting smaller and houses bigger leading to an all indoors environment. It is as though the once screened in porch became a full on part of the house. I know this is a little different than where you were going. But none the less it seems a trend to me that people are valuing the house indoor experience more than the outdoor experience of the yard.

    A tangent to this might be Dude, where's my garage?

    Personally I don't like driving but I do like tinkering with old cars, bikes, building "things", etc. and have to have a garage! I could be happy without the car in it, but 'culturally' feel disoriented without the garage. but this may be a more middle class experience.

    Best wishes on your thesis

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