Are you ready to lose your front yard?

Front of 1912 House

Front of 1912 House – How much closer to the street should it be if the rules changed?

Warning. This post contains some venting about an article that was published in the Edmonton Journal about how losing our front lawns is somehow connected to creating a vibrant city. 

In his article, journalist David Staples seemed to equate crowded building lots with neighbourliness. He agreed with developers who are attempting to get city planners to change the current building code /zoning laws that restrict the distance from the sidewalk to the front of the home.

Now I don’t know that this is the case everywhere, but the word ‘developer’ and ‘vibrant city’ are viewed by many as oxymorons. Developers promote what makes them money – period. There are very few that are remotely altruistic in their attitudes.

Development in itself is not bad. Few would disagree that rebuilding and even infills  in mature neighbourhoods creates benefits. The problem is with the how and the where these projects are constructed.

There are communities in the city, mostly built in the late 1950’s – early 1960’s, that have streets with homes that have very large front lawns and I can see that the developer would perceive that as waste. They are correct in saying that few of these front yards are used for anything other than lawns.

But that was what the rules were then. What would a developer do now? Tear down a house in such a neighbourhood and replace it with a home that is set twenty feet ahead of the others on the street? Is this supposed to be good planning and help to create a vibrant city? Once the project is complete, a developer doesn’t have to worry about the animosity that will be directed towards the people who live in that house by other community members.

A summer house

Houses look best when they are set back a bit from the street. One of the aims of the ‘garden city movement’, was to separate homes and industrial buildings from each other and create lush environments with plenty of greenery. If houses are set closer to the sidewalk, where will there be room for trees to grow?

If developers want to move houses closer to the sidewalk, why not do this in new developments, new areas? There’s a reason why people choose mature neighbourhoods and it is precisely because of the size of the lots and the room in the yard.

Staples also said that people who sat on their porch would be more likely to speak to people walking by if the house was closer to the street. That opinion might hold more water if it wasn’t for the fact that developers build decorative front porches that are only wide enough to accommodate a few pigeons sitting side by side. Families don’t sit on these porches and locating them closer to the street would have the reverse effect. A person sitting on their porch would be exposed to the street and less likely to use it at all.

We love our privacy. Why else would we want houses to be built with large front garages facing the street that, for all intents and purposes, hide the house completely from prying eyes?

Heritage homes have spirit and energy.

Homes look best when they are framed with greenery and set back a bit from the street.

There is also the issue of security. Having to walk the distance from the street sidewalk up to a person’s front door clearly delineates what is public and private space. If that space was shortened, especially with front porches, it would be extremely easy for someone with bad intentions to access the property.

So go ahead, developers, build your projects in new areas where people know what they get before they buy – and their home is set like every other home on the block but please respect the setback in the mature neighbourhoods.

4 responses to “Are you ready to lose your front yard?

  1. Excellent points Johanne! Not a rant at all. Thanks for framing this so well. Maybe you should do an op ed piece for the Edmonton Journal?

    • In today’s paper David Staple’s speaks loudly in favour of allowing a developer, Aldritt, who he admits, already own two derelict apartment buildings in Jasper Avenue area, to erect the “tallest skyscraper in western Canada” in our previously “hands-off to development” river valley. That would open a crack that would see the river valley become an enclave for the rich – as only they could afford to live in highrises of that type that they are promoting.

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