“If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities.”
Parris Glendening – Former Governor of Maryland
“Our streets and squares make up what we call the public realm, which is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, the common good suffers.”
James Howard Kunstler – Writer, Urbanist
Studies throughout the country have drawn the same conclusions regarding the relationship between house and garage. Townhouses with garages placed inconspicuously at the rear of the property create better neighborhoods and generate greater economic value than townhouses with garages fronting the street.
Look at the townhouses in our region built over the past 20 years and it easy to see there is a huge difference. In rear-loaded developments, you see landscape and activity with people walking along streets, talking to neighbors and enjoying the environment around them. Front-loaded developments, on the other hand, are dominated by asphalt, devoid of walkers, and cars dominate the streets and driveways. The total lack of landscape is striking. They look exposed, old and weathered, even though the houses might only be 10 years old.
These two very different visions have significant economic realities. In the best of conditions, one may moderately increase in value over time, but the other generates significant value even in slumping economies due to its positive impact on the greater public realm. You can feel the difference if you look closely.
Rear-loaded townhouses allow for nicer front stoops, landscaped front yards, street trees instead of driveways and few, if any, curb cuts at sidewalks to increase walkability. Chris Leinberger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, has found that increases in walkability scores can command more than $300 per month in residential rent and more than $80 per square foot in residential sales prices.
Studies in Toronto indicate that street trees reduce mid-block auto crashes by 5 to 20 percent. Street trees also lead to savings in air-conditioning expenses during hot summer months by as much as 15 to 35 percent which dramatically affects affordability. Studies in Portland, Oregon indicate that houses with street trees added about 3 percent to the median sale price of the home.
Certainly, it is unrealistic to assume that every single townhouse developed in Montgomery County must be rear-loaded. Some sites have constraints that exclude any ability to access garages from the back of the property. But this should be the exception rather than the norm. The creation of housing must also be about the creation of great neighborhoods that are walkable and promote a thriving public realm. They must equally create value for the developer and greater community today and into the future. If not, we all lose!
This blog will illuminate many ways of creating extraordinary, well planned communities without losing the neighborhood elements of landscape and open space that we all cherish. We hope to stimulate creative insight, constructive thought and meaningful feedback. Stay in touch with The Third Place!