Garden cities vs. backyardsAt David Crossley's Livable Houston meeting yesterday at HGAC, David introduced us to a century-old conceptual model of an "ideal" garden city. The essence of the concept is to replace lots of small parcels of open space - essentially peoples' yards - by combining them into large blocks of parks, greenbelts, wilderness and farmland, while people would live in moderately high-density urban/town cores. The benefits are lots of large, accessible green spaces while making pedestrian and transit-based trips easier (because of the residential and commercial density).
While an interesting concept, I think it runs up against some very powerful desires people have for their own private backyards over public parks:
- Safe place for the kids to play unsupervised
- Makes owning a dog much less hassle (almost a quarter of all households)
- Substantially fewer homeless and panhandlers
- Backdoor accessibility
- Customizable to personal tastes (pool, hot tub, deck, fountains, plants, hammock, etc.)
- Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the world (ironic that the widespread desire to garden would work against a "garden city")
As they would say in the marketing biz, the backyard is a product with a "compelling value proposition", which is probably why people are buying so many of them (aka "the suburbs"). Sure, there are plenty of people who consider a yard one big maintenance nightmare, and they're good candidates for high-density urban living with nice nearby parks (clearly a growing sentiment). But you have to wonder what the realistic long-term market share trends are.