Reading Your Neighborhood

How often do you stroll around your neighborhood, whether suburban, small town, or urban, and take in the properties? If you live in the northeast, the forecast is perfect for strolling in this warm spring weather, so take advantage of it! (To those of you elsewhere, I wish you the same weather.)

You might recall posts how to read your environment, mostly streetscape and public space based. See the following:

But let’s step back from the street and onto the front lawns or climb the front stoop, or walk into a lobby. There is another obvious element for discussing our built environment: the buildings in which we live. Where you live likely gives you a default for the setting. For instance, Preservation in Pink often discusses smaller towns and villages, because most of the current inspiration is derived from Vermont. Yet, we all live in very different places: from rural settings to suburban settings to cities, or perhaps somewhere in between, or even a combination of sorts. And it is important to recognize and read these environments. Streets and street elements need context, just as buildings do. So, when you’re out and about, take a look around you. These aren’t technical questions; but, rather tips to help open your mind and learning how to look and read the environment. Practice often and soon this information will register automatically.

  • What is the primary look of the residences in your neighborhood? Single homes? Duplexes (aka half houses or semi detached)? Are they multiple stories?
  • Is there lawn space? How close are the buildings to the street? Is the green space landscaped?
  • Where are the mailboxes?
  • Are there fences?
  • Where do the cars park?
  • Where do the children play? (Lawns, streets, parks?)
  • Do the streets form winding streets or a grid?
  • Is the locale purely residential, or is commercial mixed in? Are the commercial and residential blocks different types?
  • Does the neighborhood look to be the same age? Do the buildings seem to have different architectural styles, or do they look similar? Does the age indicate original construction — workers’ housing, post war, or does it appear to have developed organically over a century?
  • Does it seem like people know their neighbors?

Aside from pure curiosity, why bother asking yourself these questions? You can tie this back to the idea that every place matters to someone or to a group of people. Understanding where you live or where others live and being able describe it accurately allows for discussion intangible and tangible elements.

What do you notice in your neighborhood?