Praise for the backyard

Praise for the backyard

I spent a recent Sunday afternoon lazily watching clouds tear across a Robin’s egg blue sky at a friend of a friend’s Junior McMansion on a cul-de-sac. The backyard had a view across a valley of similar homes arranged in winding rows, surrounded by woods. You could watch runners and bikers pass on the main road, which was quiet enough that people felt comfortable using it for leisure even though it was a narrow two lane with no median. There was a massive pool with a diving board. The water was slightly too cold, and the weather was slightly too hot, so, really it was perfect. This is what I was thinking with my feet in the water of a suburban pool; who could want for anything but this? The sound of distant riding mowers growing louder and softer as they trundled over epic lawns. A deck nearly the size of my apartment. Music, loudly, outside, privately. It needs to be acknowledged more often by urbanists that the suburbs can be bucolic. That they offer something worthwhile. The suburbs have always been about the quest for private space, whether they were the streetcar suburbs beloved by modern day urbanists as models of good planning, or the looping streets of the modern subdivision urbanists detest. That quest leads you inevitably to the backyard. You can make the inside of any place to live a palace; you cannot add outdoor space after the fact. Why then do so many New Urbanist neighborhoods treat the backyard as an afterthought? Houses are permanent. In a seminar at the 2011 Congress for the New…