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Thread: USA Today Article: Backyards are highly overrated

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus
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    USA Today Article: Backyards are highly overrated

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinio...s+-+Flipboard)

    My personal experience they are wrong - both growing up (we had woods) and as an adult.
    Oddball
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
    My personal experience they are wrong - both growing up (we had woods) and as an adult.
    It's an opinion piece, written by a city person. Not everyone is a city person nor wants to be one.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I actually think front yards are overrated and all planners need to shift building envelopes forward. I don't need a 30 foot front yard and a 35 foot backyard, give me a 15 foot front yard and a 50 foot backyard I can actually throw a ball in. The exception to this is very busy thoroughfares where you would want a front yard setback, but a 25 MPH subdivision, 15 feet is more than enough to park a car in front of the house and off the road (unless you use on road parking) then make it 10 feet.
    @GigCityPlanner

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    ...all planners need to shift building envelopes forward. ...give me a 15 foot front yard ...15 feet is more than enough to park a car in front of the house and off the road (unless you use on road parking) then make it 10 feet.
    I agree this is what we are told we should want.

    Yet shortening front setbacks eliminates large-canopy trees in the ROW or private yards; these public goods - large-canopied trees - ameliorate the urban heat island, slow stormwater runoff, shade streets which lengthens pavement longevity and reduces VOCs from parked vehicles in warm months, intercept and filter air pollutants, (too close to the structure will) impede the solar access plane on the roof of structures on the north side of streets (and both E-W sides), slow traffic, create identity, are views from a window, increase property values, restore attention, and on and on for many more benefits, but you get the idea.

    The CNU, LEED-ND and LEED fads systems do a poor job at understanding and designing for these basic facts.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It is probably true that a lot of people do not spend much time outside in their yard. Then again, there are those of us who do. This past week my family gathered for a birthday party and many of us spent half the time outside. On Monday and Tuesday I spent 2-3 hours each day outside. Wednesday was particularly nice so I sat outside for an hour in the afternoon reading with the dogs. Thursday I was again outside working in the yard for a couple hours. Friday I spent an hour in the vegetable garden. Despite it being cool, I will probably get out again this morning. Some people will say I spend most of my time outdoors working in the yard. Work? Yes, I suppose, but for me gardening is also a recreational pusuit, hobby, and passion as well as helping to keep me relaxed, sane, and happy. It is a reward each time I step outside, even if it is just to let the dogs out.

    As one of my college profs used to say, n=1. My example may just be anecdotal, but I also see my neighbors doing the same. I start to wonder about the sampling of the study participants. Los Angeles may not have been the best choice, where people have excessive commutes, weather may be sunny but very hot, yards are often small, and the people are Californians. Normal people, perhaps, behave diffrently.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I agree this is what we are told we should want.

    Yet shortening front setbacks eliminates large-canopy trees in the ROW or private yards; these public goods - large-canopied trees - ameliorate the urban heat island, slow stormwater runoff, shade streets which lengthens pavement longevity and reduces VOCs from parked vehicles in warm months, intercept and filter air pollutants, (too close to the structure will) impede the solar access plane on the roof of structures on the north side of streets (and both E-W sides), slow traffic, create identity, are views from a window, increase property values, restore attention, and on and on for many more benefits, but you get the idea.

    The CNU, LEED-ND and LEED fads systems do a poor job at understanding and designing for these basic facts.
    Um, I assume you've been to NYC or some other large city with zero front yard setbacks that still have tree lined streets? Setbacks don't necessarily start at the curbline, sometimes they start at back of the ROW which can include the sidewalk and green strips with street trees. Still, 10 feet setback, with a tree planted near the front property line would allow for a near 20 foot canopy.
    @GigCityPlanner

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Um, I assume you've been to NYC or some other large city with zero front yard setbacks that still have tree lined streets?
    Of course. And I was just in Montreal and Quebec City studying their spatial arrangements as well. Nevertheless, the problems with most of NYC's tree lined streets is the subject of another thread and shouldn't be held up as an exemplar.

    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    Setbacks don't necessarily start at the curbline, sometimes they start at back of the ROW which can include the sidewalk and green strips with street trees. Still, 10 feet setback, with a tree planted near the front property line would allow for a near 20 foot canopy.
    I'm specifically concerned in my work with setbacks that start at the back of the ROW, and where 15 feet is still inadequate. A 20 foot canopy is inadequate next to the street, and a tree with a 20 foot canopy in front of a structure less than 3 stories will impede the solar access plane. The topic is complicated and this is simply to say the standard template is inadequate to address the ecological portion of the built environment.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Of course. And I was just in Montreal and Quebec City studying their spatial arrangements as well. Nevertheless, the problems with most of NYC's tree lined streets is the subject of another thread and shouldn't be held up as an exemplar.



    I'm specifically concerned in my work with setbacks that start at the back of the ROW, and where 15 feet is still inadequate. A 20 foot canopy is inadequate next to the street, and a tree with a 20 foot canopy in front of a structure less than 3 stories will impede the solar access plane. The topic is complicated and this is simply to say the standard template is inadequate to address the ecological portion of the built environment.
    In most cities, at least here in NYS, the trend is to plant smallish street trees that will NOT bring down power lines in storms, will NOT heave sidewalks, and will NOT get into the sewer lines. These are NEVER going to have enough canopy to shade the street, but they also aren't going to have nasty roots or interfere with power lines, and that's what the city and most homeowners want. Here in Jamestown, if you're on a "re-tree" street (most of the big, older trees on your street have been removed because of disease), you can pick your own tree that the city will supply and plant for you for free. The choices are Bradford pears, crabapples, tree lilacs, etc. I picked a pink flowering crab.

    I have an older home that was built in the 1920s and then remodelled with an addition on the front in the late 1960s or 1970s. The setback is 13 feet from the sidewalk (that's where my land actually begins). Most homes on my street have front setbacks of less than 20 feet. The sidewalk and area between the sidewalk and the street belongs to the city, although the homeowner is expected to maintain it. Even where there are no sidewalks, the city still owns that area, which is between 8 and 10 feet, so homes here are really 20-25 feet back from the street itself. I have no problem with that small a set back.

    As for the article, I would point out the fact that it was one study based on one small sample from one small area. For example, certainly the age of children would determine how much they would use the backyard -- younger children will use it much more than probably even middle schoolers and certainly more than older adolescents. An upper middle class neighborhood would probably have fewer young children than a neighborhood of starter homes.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    In most cities, at least here in NYS, the trend is to plant smallish street trees that will NOT bring down power lines in storms, will NOT heave sidewalks, and will NOT get into the sewer lines. These are NEVER going to have enough canopy to shade the street, but they also aren't going to have nasty roots or interfere with power lines, and that's what the city and most homeowners want.
    These are all symptoms of cr*ppy infrastructure design and/or construction.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  10. #10
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    This is like having a story that says public transportation is overrated. It really depends on who uses it, and what for.

    Personally, I wouldn't buy a home without at least an acre of land. I guess I could build my house on the rear lot line forcing me to have an acre of front yard...

    People want different things with their largest purchase. Some want connectivity, some want seclusion. Some want interaction, some want to be left alone. Is it "healthy" for a street? Who knows. But if the house sells, then it is the persons prerogative how they use it. If you want to build a home, much of that decision is based on where you can get the land. And you won't buy land where you can't build a house how you want.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    This is like having a story that says public transportation is overrated. It really depends on who uses it, and what for.

    Personally, I wouldn't buy a home without at least an acre of land. I guess I could build my house on the rear lot line forcing me to have an acre of front yard...

    People want different things with their largest purchase. Some want connectivity, some want seclusion. Some want interaction, some want to be left alone. Is it "healthy" for a street? Who knows. But if the house sells, then it is the persons prerogative how they use it. If you want to build a home, much of that decision is based on where you can get the land. And you won't buy land where you can't build a house how you want.
    This is all so true. I grew up with a back yard that is about the size of my living room today - and I dont live in a big house. What was the point of it? As an adult I prefer to live in an apartment building, valuing the view over the open space. But to each is own. Why should anyone care how others live?

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    This is all so true. I grew up with a back yard that is about the size of my living room today - and I dont live in a big house. What was the point of it? As an adult I prefer to live in an apartment building, valuing the view over the open space. But to each is own. Why should anyone care how others live?
    My background is also very similar. As a child, I would hang out at the nearby school park more often than the backyard. These days I'm looking for a townhome without a yard or a condo with a view. All I need is enough space for a BBQ and a patio table, and that's it. My personal belief is that backyards are overrated since people rarely use the entire space. The size of one's lot is seen as a status symbol I guess. The time and expenses spent maintaining a lawn are maddening to me. But to each his own.

    The below development was built in the late 90s. A racetrack occupied the site before it was redeveloped into this subdivison. My opinion is the developer was drunk off the New Urbanism kool-aid, but nevertheless they sold very well from what I remember.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=43.66...324.52,,0,-8.9

    Today they resell from over $750,000 CAD, and that's for the narrow ones. Most of of these homes utilize the rooftop space as a patio to entertain guests. I've seen the same concept in Chicago. It's an innovative use of space where land prices are at a premium.

    http://www.inthebeach.com/34jdinteractive.html
    Last edited by OfficialPlanner; 09 Oct 2012 at 5:09 PM.
    The content contrarian

  13. #13
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I live in a suburban subdivision and our backyard, which is the largest in the entire sub, rarely gets used. The kids in the neighborhood would rather play in the front yards or be by the sidewalk and streets where they can ride their bikes. I don't typically like big back yards, and we weren't necessarily looking for one, it just happened to go that way. I will try and find ways to reduce the size of my backyard. Pool anyone??
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    I live in a suburban subdivision and our backyard, which is the largest in the entire sub, rarely gets used. The kids in the neighborhood would rather play in the front yards or be by the sidewalk and streets where they can ride their bikes. I don't typically like big back yards, and we weren't necessarily looking for one, it just happened to go that way. I will try and find ways to reduce the size of my backyard. Pool anyone??
    Most of the people in our subdivision spend almost zero time in their yards, including directing the lawn service about every two months. We often remark on how the land around here is wasted. I'd expand the veggie garden and landscaping into their unused yards if they'd let me. This is the reason why I think the ROW can have 8-10 foot treelawns and a little deeper setback and big trees can serve the public. Few want to maintain large private trees (although they are needed too) every 10 years at 3-4-500.00 a pop.
    -------
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    When I was a young man, all I wanted was a balcony big enough to put a barbque grill on.

    When I was a married man, I wanted a decent front yard for appearance and a patio for entertaining.

    When I was a married man with children, I wanted a big back yard for the children to safely play away from the street.

    Since the children have gone, I want a back yard to putter around with garden vegatables, and enough space for an occassional grandchild to visit and play.

    As a retired person, I enjoy the color of our flowering trees, and the shade and gentle murmur of our mature trees in our front and back yards, and sitting on the patio deck and listening to the gurgle of our stream bed as it cascades into our koi pond.

    Having the advantage of the experience of living through these phases of life, and now looking back, I find that I would not change those desires for space and serenity.

    Maybe that is why we have different size lots, different size houses, and different size set-backs as we go through life.

    Peace.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    When I was a young man, all I wanted was a balcony big enough to put a barbque grill on.

    When I was a married man, I wanted a decent front yard for appearance and a patio for entertaining.

    When I was a married man with children, I wanted a big back yard for the children to safely play away from the street.

    Since the children have gone, I want a back yard to putter around with garden vegatables, and enough space for an occassional grandchild to visit and play.

    As a retired person, I enjoy the color of our flowering trees, and the shade and gentle murmur of our mature trees in our front and back yards, and sitting on the patio deck and listening to the gurgle of our stream bed as it cascades into our koi pond.

    Having the advantage of the experience of living through these phases of life, and now looking back, I find that I would not change those desires for space and serenity.

    Maybe that is why we have different size lots, different size houses, and different size set-backs as we go through life.

    Peace.
    Exactly.

  17. #17
    Again, the answer is choice: a community should provide a diversity of housing that accommodates as best as it can people with diverse needs and wants.

    I will bring up the problem of externalities. If too many people want big lots, then traffic will increase, more greenhouse gasses are produced, and there are needs for greater public services (more roads, etc.).

    Of course one can argue that there are increased external costs of higher density housing as well.

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