We might take it for granted now, but the garage wasn’t always at the front of the house. Of course, before there were cars, there were no garages, but even with the advent of cars, it wasn’t always the case that we had a front garage. They were often detached, or cars were parked in an alley. Either way, garages weren’t always a ubiquitous feature of a typical suburban home.
Garages aren’t pretty: they’re boxy, disruptive, and probably the ugliest feature of the house front that people could see from the street. So why are they still there? Garages are tolerated because we value other things more, like the ease of being able to drive out of our house to work and then drive back when the work day is over. Perhaps most important is what the garage actually replaced: the porch. The porch was a place to socialize, meet neighbors, watch children play, and be present outdoors. Nowadays, many houses have it isolated at the back in the form of a terrace.
Replacing the porch with the garage is just one small example of how our built environment reflects our priorities and shapes the way we live. According to this principle, we can intentionally shape the way we live by building with certain values in mind. This has always been the case, but we often allow the powerful undercurrents of other ambiguous or negative values like capitalism and racism to dictate how we construct our society. Yet we fail to be quite as radical or determined as we build in pursuit of the virtues of life.
If we build intentionally rather than aimlessly, we should build with the promotion of community in mind. It seems pretty obvious to build around the community, but as the garage example shows, that’s not necessarily how things actually work. Often when we ask for more housing, the objective is density or quality. These are all good things, but we should be thinking about more than how many units we can put in this new development, or which neighborhood we would like to improve. What might it look like to build an environment that builds community?
The solutions are well known. Build housing around parks with playgrounds, fields and community gardens. In high-rise buildings, you can set aside a few floors for recreational spaces if there are clubs and associations that people want to form in that community. Lower floors can be reserved for businesses, with the best being small businesses or local businesses. Streets should become a common space that is actually useful for human interaction rather than primarily cars.
Some of these fairly obvious ideas have already been loosely implemented in cities, but these examples should only serve as a starting point. There are also many more subtle methods. In Singapore, residents sometimes have the option of choosing the paint color of their building, which can make residents feel more invested in their community and its upkeep.
There are many methods to build intentionally with the community in mind that cannot all be discussed here, and each location will require different solutions. Nevertheless, we should always build our society with the front porch, so to speak, rather than the back.
Grant Li is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]educated. If you would like to publicly respond to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all Daily Northwestern staff.