Little Toy Soldiers with Their Eyes Shut

A little known fact.  I am a fan of some parts of cities.  Those who know me would be shocked to hear that.  I grumble about too many people in too small of a space, traffic, the noise, the lack of privacy, the cost for so little space.  But those things are often times offset by the benefits of convenience (read ability to walk to) that is helped out by the incredible densities that also create the grumble list.  I like to walk.  It is better than driving, and when you get some where, there is no need to circle like a vulture looking for a place to put your clown car.

But I am in the exurbs now, and walking is a daily activity in itself.  There is literally 1 store, a library and a post office within a one hour round trip from the house.  And, now that I have adjusted to this more spread out life, taking walks also allows for some thought on how things are here versus the city/near suburbs I have lived in since leaving the Midwest.

A major difference is the arrangement of the homes to the street.  Here, the homes (for the most part) are set back, skewed from the street, and in some cases, not visible due to landscape or topography.  This allows for privacy, proper siting for solar gain/protection, and the ability to have a style of one's choosing.  On my street alone, we have 8 completely different styles of home out of 12 properties.  But, as I have stated before, we have a minimum 2 acre zoning in the entire town.  This allows for such freedom (at the cost of density and proximity).

In contrast, when you walk through anywhere inside of Route 128 (with minor high end exceptions), most housing faces the street.  It's front door mandated in some zoning ordinances must be forward facing.  The distance from the street is usually whatever the local zone mandates, and in some cases, the width of the house is exactly the width of the lot minus whatever forced mandated zoning pertains to the lot.  Walking down these streets, it is like being in a military parade, all of the soldiers lined up at attention, most in a neighborhood looking similar enough to resemble a monolithic front to all those who pass by in the parade of the street.  As you get into urban neighborhoods, homes are replaced with townhouses, rowhouses and in some cases, large, soviet style (ok, that may be over the top) apartment blocks.  All with decoration and pasted on front facades that evoke a deeper historical context. 

One thing I notice on most of these urban properties are the window treatments.  Shades, curtains, sheers, vertical AND horizontal blinds and, unfortunately, iron bars on the lower floors in some neighborhoods.  All of these are ways of keeping others out of our lives.  And while that is a positive in privacy and safety, it is also a way to keep the daylight out that was intended to be brought in by these mostly well placed windows.  It makes me stop and think, if no one wants to have their windows open and visible, maybe the windows don't actually need to be there.  They ARE a really expensive component of the built environment, only to be covered and obscured from their actual use. 

I get it, no one wants to have peepers looking in.  And privacy is a major goal of our domiciles, but it is a shame that these openings to the world are shut for a majority of the time.   But the waste of installing beautiful (or at least functional) windows in an area where they are rarely used for their actual purpose is overwhelming.  Traditional thought is that the windows on the front of the house 'connect the home to the street', but if they are always covered, do they actually disconnect the inhabitants from those on the outside, thereby creating the negative condition that was intended to be avoided by the windows on the front?