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Thread: The front yard

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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    The front yard

    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    "The cultural connotation of the front yard in American society"
    I think this is actually a very worthwhile topic and could use some more exploration. Why are wealthier people more inclined to have better landscaping? Why do people in rural areas keep "junk" in their yards? Etc. I know this was meant as a joke but it's a good topic all planner's have dealt with at one time or another.
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    split from interesting but probably inappropriate planning masters thesis topics...and moved to Design, Space and Place


    For me, I look at the wonderful southern exposure that my front lawn has and consider the inconvenience and environmental impacts mowing it 500 times will have and think to myself...what if I replaced all that useless grass with tomatoes?......If I didn't think there was a 90% chance that kids/vandals would make off with tomatoes I'd turf it up in a heartbeat!
    Last edited by Maister; 18 May 2011 at 11:23 AM.

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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    For me, front yards are an architectural extension of the house. It's only purpose is to make the house more attractive, thus making the entire street more attractive.

    I don't "do" anything in my front yard, other than trying to make it look nice.

    However, I live on a small city lot with a small front yard, so I guess that impacts how I feel.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

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    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    Our front yard is mostly trees - massive summer shade!
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    New urbanist die-hards of course would contend the deeper the front yard, the greater the social barrier or buffer. Harder to talk to passers-by while sitting on one's front porch when the sidewalk is 60 feet away. We live in our privacy-fence enclosed rear yards in Suburbia.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I think this is actually a very worthwhile topic and could use some more exploration. Why are wealthier people more inclined to have better landscaping? Why do people in rural areas keep "junk" in their yards? Etc. I know this was meant as a joke but it's a good topic all planner's have dealt with at one time or another.
    We live in a relatively wealthy area and most of the landscaping in our neighborhood is pretty simple, the main difference that I notice between our neighborhood and others where the income is lower is that the upkeep and maintenance generally looks better but the number of plants or quality of the plants/lawns might not be any better.

    I would imagine that the wealthier areas are more likely to have professional landscaping firms come in to do some things beyond just cutting the grass (many of the homes near us have folks come in monthly to prune all the trees and shrubs, add fresh mulch, pull weeds from the flower beds, fertilize, aerate, etc...). People in these neighborhoods may also have more leisure time that they might use to do more work in the yard.

    I grew up in a rural area and I think the junk on the lawn phenomena (old washers, refrigerators, couches, etc...) may come from the fact that throwing these items out in these areas isn't always as simple as setting it by the curb on trash day because their haulers may be less likely to pick up bulk items. The property owners may accumulate these large objects with the intention of getting an entire truck's worth all at once before driving the stuff to the dump themselves.

    There's also the issue of code enforcement: In my parents area, where all of the houses are on minimum 7 acre plots, you would have to accumulate a lot of stuff in the yard before you catch the eye of a neighbor who might complain or a code enforcement officer who might just be driving past (if the community even has their own code enforcement). In my neighborhood, where the lots are much much smaller and there are many more eyes on the street, if I put an old washer and hot water heater in the front yard on Monday, I'd probably have a letter from the city by Wednesday.

    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    For me, I look at the wonderful southern exposure that my front lawn has and consider the inconvenience and environmental impacts mowing it 500 times will have and think to myself...what if I replaced all that useless grass with tomatoes?......If I didn't think there was a 90% chance that kids/vandals would make off with tomatoes I'd turf it up in a heartbeat!
    My front yard is to the south as well and this year, mixed in with the flowers, I'm planting some artichokes since I will not really have room for them in the vegetable garden. I've also thought about putting a couple tomato plants next to my porch and might actually do that this year too. We have a circular driveway and I always say to myself that if I were to plant some sort of border around it besides just grass, it would be a mixture of shrubs and vegetables... I'm just too lazy to do it.
    Last edited by mendelman; 19 May 2011 at 9:13 AM.
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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    The typical tract builder trend I see right now is large house (3,000-3,500 sf) on the smallest lot possible (5,000-7,500 sf). Tack on the typical front setback in a suburban zoning code of 15-35 feet and the front yard is as big or bigger than the backyard. I can speak now from experience that I love the backyard where the dogs can run and the kids can play. You don't see us in the front yard with the swing set, even if it were fenced off. I don't need my privacy but certain things belong in the backyard like grilling and playing which gives some privacy. I think front setbacks should be just far enough for typical safety, that is maybe 5 feet behind the sidewalk line depending on the speedlimit and daily trips on the road. This will then open up the backyard by 10-20 more feet and allow the homeowner to actually enjoy their backyard.

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    For me, front yards are an architectural extension of the house. It's only purpose is to make the house more attractive, thus making the entire street more attractive.

    I don't "do" anything in my front yard, other than trying to make it look nice.

    However, I live on a small city lot with a small front yard, so I guess that impacts how I feel.
    I view it in much the same way--an architectural extension of the house. I also view it as an opportunity to create wildlife habitat and have even done some vegetable gardening as part of the landscape.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    For me, front yards are an architectural extension of the house. It's only purpose is to make the house more attractive, thus making the entire street more attractive.
    While I share this idea, apparently the people walking their dogs in my neighborhood view my front yard as a doggie toilet.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    While I share this idea, apparently the people walking their dogs in my neighborhood view my front yard as a doggie toilet.
    I actually had to walk out onto my front porch yesterday afternon and, um, suggest to one of my neighbors that she remove both herself and her cocker spaniel from my front yard.
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  11. #11
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    While I share this idea, apparently the people walking their dogs in my neighborhood view my front yard as a doggie toilet.
    The people a few doors down from me have a tiny little metal dog (maybe 5" long) assuming the position staked at the corner of their lawn with "NO!!!!" inscribed across at (similar to this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...esnatsleaid-20)
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    If you want to get into Michael Pollan's tracing of the history of the yard, he'd maintain the manicured front yard grew out of the pastoral ideal that first took root on post-feudal estates in England (landscape imitating the pastoral farming ideal once the peasants had been cleared out), was then adopted by the upper-middle classes (including in Olmsted's subdivisions with winding roads and pastoral yards), and eventually became the cultural norm for the single-family home.

    As for junk in rural areas - I think one reason is rural people are often more self-reliant - they fix their own cars, for example, hence the two "parts cars" in the front yard, which isn't really viewed as a yard in the suburban sense, but as land ... it's not for presentation to neighbors, but rather for some use by the owner, legitimately including ... keeping stuff.

    Interestingly, I once saw a development where the affordable homes had to pay the HOA to maintain their front yards, on the assumption that these folks may not have the time/motivation to keep the yard well-maintained, nor the money to pay someone to do it. The market-rate homes had no such requirement.

    I myself agree that the very minimum yard to present some greenery back of the sidewalk should be sufficient (particularly if there is a detached walk with tree lawn) - more is fine but I don't see a compelling public purpose in requiring large front yards unless its to maintain character in an already existing neighborhood. On the other hand, the one thing that really gets to me are paved front yards (often found in older cities) and gravel front yards ...

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Why are wealthier people more inclined to have better landscaping?
    This is actually fairly well understood. It is signaling. Now, it is your preference of researcher/discipline you favor to choose to believe "signaling what?". Some of it has to do with the psychology underlying docwatson's mentioning Pollan.

  14. #14
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    This notion of a 'front lawn display' can be pretty dysfunctional. Particularly in places where green grass is unnatural. If one lives in an arid or semi-arid environment irrigating to keep a lawn green seems borderline criminal.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    About midway between the street and our house, there is a steep rise of about six feet. Every year since we moved in I have been removing the sod from a bit more of it, then seeding the space with a combination of native and other wildflowers. Eventually there will only be a small path leading down where the slope is not as steep. On the other side of the driveway I built a rock wall, leaving a small flower bed at the base, and planting spruse and white pine above.
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    I think this is actually a very worthwhile topic and could use some more exploration. Why are wealthier people more inclined to have better landscaping? Why do people in rural areas keep "junk" in their yards? Etc. I know this was meant as a joke but it's a good topic all planner's have dealt with at one time or another.
    When we moved to a rural area outside of my current city years ago (we don't live there anymore) we learned that the area only received trash pickup the year before That explained all the little charred areas around our property - people were burning their trash! Otherwise, you had to haul it to the dump and pay to leave it there.

    I also noticed that there were a lot of folks with things like appliances, old water heaters, etc. in their yards. Then it dawned on me - there was no heavy trash pickup there. Indeed, the area began organizing a once, and then twice a year pickup of heavy trash items and we saw a dramatic reduction in lawn appliances. Not that there aren't plenty of folks using them as planters and the like, but I realized that the infrastructure to get rid of these kinds of things just wasn't there. I imagine its similar for cars. For a lower income person, a broken down car can be raided for parts, might one day be fixed, or at the least, will cost money to be hauled away. So, unless someone is going to force them to move it, why bother?

    I also agree that in settings like these, the layout and the mentality of people living there often lay less emphasis on how their properties combine to contribute to some large streetscape. Its more about one's individual property and the freedom to use it as you like. I think also, in many rural areas, the land is more of a functional, working, productive space (for farming, car repair, etc.) than in suburban or urban settings where display is more the emphasis.

    I gotta say, my local neighborhood association (which gets very hung up on historic preservation details and bickering among the more well-to-do neighbors instead of the poverty that exists in their midst) recently implemented a program to recognize neighbors with nice looking front yards. I find it ridiculous, especially as the sign that recognizes one for the month is this monstrous contraption. As you might imagine, everyone "recognized" so far is well off and recently spent notable $$s improving (or paying someone to improve) their front yard. Now I'm afraid to make mine too nice lest they plant that huge elephant of a sign in front of my house...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  17. #17
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    New urbanist die-hards of course would contend the deeper the front yard, the greater the social barrier or buffer. Harder to talk to passers-by while sitting on one's front porch when the sidewalk is 60 feet away. We live in our privacy-fence enclosed rear yards in Suburbia.
    While true, they do understand that a suburban built environment has its place along the transect.

    On another note, I wonder if the rural poor outside of the United States also hoard cars, appliances, scrap metal and the like on their yards.

    There's an urban and working-class version of the "junk in the front yard" phenomenon, only the yards are occupied by assorted toys. Here in the very crunchy town where I now reside, front yards occupied by gardens, both flower and vegetable, or just left wild and "natural", aren't seen as out of the ordinary.

    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    In my boring, cr*ppy conservative McSuburb the HOA yard nazis would have a conniption, and pressure these undesirables to stop decreasing our property values!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Worse than Pollan's dad endured with his lawn, surely.

    Although I was successful at ripping out the turf from the treelawn and replacing with perennials, but only because the HOA doesn't have jurisdiction in the ROW.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Moderator note:
    split from interesting but probably inappropriate planning masters thesis topics...and moved to Design, Space and Place


    For me, I look at the wonderful southern exposure that my front lawn has and consider the inconvenience and environmental impacts mowing it 500 times will have and think to myself...what if I replaced all that useless grass with tomatoes?......If I didn't think there was a 90% chance that kids/vandals would make off with tomatoes I'd turf it up in a heartbeat!
    I am about 70% to my goal of replacing all grass in my front yard and in the strip between the sidewalk and the street with flowers and shrubs. The front yard itself can now be maintained with hand weeding and a pass with the weed-wacker. I use a hand reel mower on the street strip although if I'm lazy, I borrow one of the neighbors' power mowers. I use my rider on the back yard grass.

    My front porch is simply a small deck which isn't covered, meaning that it's very hot in the summer because it faces west. The cost of putting a roof on it is more than I want to pay, so I may look into putting an awning on it some day, but I see plenty of my neighbors while I'm weeding out front.

    I "live" in my backyard, however. I have a wonderful covered back porch plus a brick patio with plenty of seating. I have both a gas grill and a charcoal one. I have a pond and waterfall. I have my veggie and flower gardens. Because I plant flowers especially for hummingbirds and butterflies, both are frequent visitors. Did I mention my collection of bird feeders, funky yard art, and whirligigs?

    The yard's fenced with chain-link so that the dog and kitties can roam safely, but I also chose chain-link because it's largely maintenance free and I feel it's friendlier than privacy fencing. I can talk to my neighbors easily across the fence and frequently do since they hang out in their backyards, too.

  20. #20
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    In my boring, cr*ppy conservative McSuburb the HOA yard nazis would have a conniption, and pressure these undesirables to stop decreasing our property values!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Worse than Pollan's dad endured with his lawn, surely.
    And while the yards and facades may appear worn and rustic, that's just how the crunchy crowd likes it. When a unit in the pictured development goes up for sale, it tends to be in the $150/square foot range.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  21. #21
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    That development is nasty.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    And while the yards and facades may appear worn and rustic, that's just how the crunchy crowd likes it. When a unit in the pictured development goes up for sale, it tends to be in the $150/square foot range.
    I'm really liking your word choice here. "Crunchy" seems to accurately portray this type of lifestyle, without being too condescending or derogatory.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    And while the yards and facades may appear worn and rustic, that's just how the crunchy crowd likes it. When a unit in the pictured development goes up for sale, it tends to be in the $150/square foot range.
    The facades aren't my cup of ginseng and Himalayan-grown chamomile and fleabane tea, the landscaping is great in my view. YMMV.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    I have never understood the appeal of the large private lawn, especially in southern California where moisture comes seasonally. Hearst Castle doesn't have a single blade of grass on the site, and I think that approach makes much more sense in this climate. The grounds there are spectacular sans grass. Too often, home-owners seem to lack imagination with their ornamental plantings. And, I think a growing number of people are interested in doing some organic and local subsistence farming on their properties, especially with landscapers who are hired to do some of the work.

    I have noticed a growing interest in converting front yards into outdoor rooms by adding seating, umbrellas, and tables, as well as water features and other comforts that go beyond the typical front porch. All of this is great for building community and for community self-policing. People are sick of the expense, watering, maintenance, air/noise pollution, and illegal immigration that the conventional yard requires.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    People are sick of the expense, watering, maintenance, air/noise pollution, and illegal immigration that the conventional yard requires.
    I agree, and not around here they're not. I can honestly say that my less-than-radical front yard is the only one of its kind within at least a mile radius. Maybe 2.

    There are some places where the culture is changing. But the norm is the signaling that you are in control of nature. And there are new consumer products every year that are dutifully purchased to keep it that way. One day when water is priced properly and petrochemicals are too expensive to lavish on turf, this will all change. Not a day too soon, either. Food is much more logical in turf's place, but that requires work and knowledge.

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