Why are we still building housing like this?

While driving around in Saratoga Springs I found the neighborhood in the pictures below:

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Someone obviously wants to live here and, I say, to each her or his own. But I wouldn’t want to live here and I’m sure I’m not alone; in the end it’s a pretty bleak place.

Specifically, it’s aggressively car-oriented. The garage doors are the most prominent feature of each home and, bafflingly, the human doors are set back and de-emphasized.

It’s also strange that each home has a two-car garage and a two-car driveway. Do the people in these relatively compact dwellings really have four cars per household? As smaller homes (by Western standards) the space devoted to cars is strange because it reduces the number of rooms and the amount of living space available for people.

And of course there’s the color problem: like many suburbs these homes have all been painted brown. It makes no sense because brown seems to be no one’s favorite color.

Despite the oddity of this neighborhood, the developers are still making the same mistakes even as I write this:20130606-130740.jpg

The most frustrating thing about this particular neighborhood is that it’s actually not that far from being a decent place. The homes are connected to one another, for example, thus reducing energy costs. That closeness and the small street also potentially raises density above the typical suburban neighborhood.

And therein lies the tragedy: with just a few changes this neighborhood could have been so much better. Putting the front doors closer to the street than the garages would have been a good start. Extending the second stories over the garages via a balcony or bay window also could have helped. Interestingly, what the developers did with the front door is exactly what they should have done… with the garage door.

And of course, reducing the percentage of the facade taken up by the garage door would have been a huge improvement.

Making those changes or others could have turned the neighborhood into something like a lite version of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies. After all, those homes also have front-facing garage doors.

Most importantly, none of these changes would have been that difficult or that expensive, at least over the long-run.

Instead, however, laziness, tradition or other factors produced a neighborhood that, at least in terms of its form, isn’t even mediocre.

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7 comments

  1. Pingback: New townhouses, old style | About Town
  2. Kirstin

    I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion to not have the garage be so prominent but I’m sure each house has a two car driveway because the street is so narrow that anyone visiting has to park on the driveway.

    • jimmycdii

      I suspect that may have played into the builder’s thinking. However, I’ve seen many, many streets that are narrower and yet still manage to have street parking on both sides. That just means cars have to go slower, which is usually a good thing in a residential neighborhood.

    • Alan Peters

      The other reason they need they need to park on the driveway is because the street is so full of driveways that there’s few places to park without blocking a driveway. But the real reason for the driveways is probably that the city required them, either with a parking minimum or a minimum setback. A lot of developers want to build better products (not out of principle, but because more density=more money) but the cities just don’t allow them.
      At the same time I doubt there are ordinances in Saratoga Springs that require townhomes to be butt ugly. That one’s on the builder.

      • jimmycdii

        Haha, yeah (re: ugliness). But yeah it’s so discouraging that we know how to do better and builders want to do better, but that the cities just won’t allow it.

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