What does it take to turn your street into a neighbourhood?

Its Neighbours Day Aotearoa tomorrow, so what better opportunity to roll out the barbie and catch-up or meet those who live on your street. In celebration of the day, the Auckland Design Manual looks at four simple ways your street can become an extension of your home.

Tamati, who lives in Glen Innes, decided to celebrate Neighbours Day because he wants his kids to know their neighbours the way he had when he was younger. ‘Suburban streets were once extensions of the home’ he explains, ‘and consequently a celebration of community’. Unfortunately, it seems this community feel has, for the most part, been lost.

Many Aucklanders lack relationships with their neighbours. While community initiatives such as Neighbours Day are a great way to bring local communities together, you can’t help wondering – at what point did we lose touch with the people who live closest to us?

We all go through phases in life when we need a little support, whether you are injured, new parents or elderly. For many, it’s reassuring to know that, whether you need it or not, there’s support next door. People who know their neighbours perceive their street as being friendlier or safer.

Neighbours Day Halston Rd 1

Neighbours Day 2016 (Halston Road, Mt Eden)

 

So, what does it take to reinvigorate our streets and create the communities that Tamati so warmly recalls from his childhood? How do we ‘return front yards into the playgrounds that they once were – to reverse the retreat and reclaim the streets?’ While we can’t change other people’s design choices, there is much we can do at an individual level to transform our own properties into welcoming spaces.

Below are four simple design tips that will help you to reverse the retreat and reclaim your street.

Whanganui Street party 3

Neighbours Day 2016 (Whanganui, Street Party)

 

Street to front door – the ‘social space’

Designing a clear connection from the front door of a home to the street helps to create a friendly and legible neighbourhood. Traditionally, this is achieved with a front porch that faces onto the street, though there are a range of design approaches that can achieve this. According to Jan Gehl, author of the acclaimed Cities for People, front doors should address the street directly and have a separation of no more than 3.2 metres. This creates an informal social space and provides an increased opportunity to bump into passers-by as residents come and go from their house.

An informal 'social space' is created between the street and front door (Ponsonby, Auckland)

An informal ‘social space’ is created between the street and front door (Ponsonby, Auckland)

 

The layout and front yard design of the above development creates an informal social space along the length of the footpath (Addison, Auckland)

The layout and front yard design of the above development creates an informal social space along the length of the footpath (Papakura, Auckland)

 

Lower your fences

Often fences are erected as a privacy measure, but high fences can have several negative impacts. Firstly, fences over 1.5 metres in height isolate the occupants from their street. Resultantly, they also cause passers-by to feel unsafe and isolated, as the occupants are unable to look out for them behind the fence. Research has also shown that long stretches of high fences along streets is likely to increase vehicular speeding. Fences above 0.9m which abut driveways are also considered unsafe for children, as they’re not visible to drivers pulling out until it’s too late.

In some cases, residents find that they don’t need at fence at all. As Neighbours Day advocate Graeme Holland comments, “We’ve been living on our street for 20 years and we never got around to putting a fence up between ours and our neighbour’s properties.”

High fences separate occupants from the streets and prevent passive surveillance

High fences separate occupants from the streets and prevent passive surveillance

 

Fences - the lower and more permeable the better (Mt Eden, Auckland)

Fences – the lower and more permeable the better (Mt Eden, Auckland)

 

Visibility

The design of the front of a home requires a careful balance between maintaining adequate privacy and providing opportunities for visual connections with the street. This is particularly the case for homes where their main outdoor space is facing towards the street. However, this privacy can be created without erecting a solid fence and retreating from the street. Permeable fencing (fencing which you can partially see through) or planting, allows you to see what’s happening on your street whilst providing adequate screening for privacy.

Dependent on the site, it can also be possible to raise a home above street level. This means that passers-by are unable to see directly into the front windows, but occupants are still able to keep a neighbourly eye out for them.

Streets with houses that have a visual connection to the street are more likely to be used by locals for walking and jogging (Mangere, Auckland)

Streets with houses that have a visual connection to the street are more likely to be used by locals for walking and jogging (Mangere, Auckland)

 

Trees

Trees positively impact a street environment and are an easy and relatively inexpensive improvement that can be made to a neighbourhood. Planting trees in front yards contributes to the perceived greenness of an area and will entice people to use the street more. They can also be used for shelter and shade, which is great for when it’s raining or sunny.

Furthermore, studies have shown that streets with large amounts of trees prevent cars from speeding and are linked with a reduction in both stress levels and crime rates.

Planting trees at the front of your site contributes to a green streetscape

Planting trees at the front of your site contributes to a green streetscape

 

Streets that feel safe are more likely to have kids play and ride their bikes on. They’re also more likely to be used by residents for walking and jogging.  By maintaining a visual connection with the street, you’re helping to build a sense of community on your street and creating a safe environment for kids to play.

Interested in learning more about how your home can contribute to your neighbourhood? Check out the ADM’s Housing, Neighbourhoods and Streets hubs for further guidance, resources and case studies.

Next week, we look at communal open space and its growing importance to Auckland as our population increases.

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