jardin défendu
The Front Range has been rainy and overcast every day since my return. Still, people worry about the drought, and several municipalities here have restricted water use or are going to court to restrict someone else's water use, which reminds me of Ed Quillen's column about architecture's adaptation to climate, and the water-conserving walled garden homes of the Mediterranean.

Housing developments here, at least in my price range, all have card-table-sized lawns in front and in back. The front lawns are all sodded and have irrigation gear installed, whether you like it or not, and privacy fences running from house to house. Not enough room here to throw a Frisbee, not enough room for a decent porch either.

The rear lawns are left in mud, brown-eyed susans and purslane, and you will install your own privacy fence to separate your mud from your adjacent neighbors' mud. You will also be blessed with some massive green box or doghouse of some kind, to provide the electrical power, telephone, or cable TV service for the block.

Your covenant gives you an arbitrary 60 days to get the rear sodded, or your homeowners association will hound you, financed to do so by your dues. Any landscaping more complex than sodding from fence to fence requires a permit that must be signed by your adjacent neighbors.

I'm the kind of guy who likes to solve more than one problem with one solution, and yes, I classify busybody neighbors with veto power over my front and back yards as a problem. The windswept front lawn whose irrigation system blows acre-feet of water down the street is also a problem.

So somebody please design a development where each block looks in upon itself, like an atrium. Move the houses out to the sidewalk, turn them so they face each other inwardly, and merge each useless little front lawn and its nearly-useless rear lawn into one workable lawn for each property, protected from the wind. Run a sidewalk down the middle, flanked by waist-high fences, where neighborhood kids can bike, skate, toss balls and whatnot, free from the dangers of automobiles and perverts. The paved bike paths that lace these communities together today can be passed through the block.

Anybody who Joneses for a dramatic porch and window treatments can still do so and compete with his neighbors (double entendre intended). Anybody who wants to be able to sunbathe buck naked in his lawn can erect privacy fences, set back from the sidewalk an appropriate distance, thereby closing off the view to his porch.

From the outside, where the automobiles move about, one sees only walls---whether wooden, concrete, or discarded car tires rammed with earth, it doesn't matter---say 8 feet high, and the rears of the houses, punctuated at regular intervals by garage doors. By covenant, these outward facing walls have no windows, or have windows such that no one can look from his window into anyone else's. Balconies here, overlooking the street, would be permissible only if the view is similarly restricted. And by covenant, anything that neighbors see on your house from out there is legit, whether it's a solar collector, a satellite dish, a HAM antenna, or aluminum foil to block the CIA's brain scans: the HOA must keep its hands the hell off.

All of the utilities are accessed from the street, so no hardhats will ever be poking around in your yard. The mailbox pod is placed at one end, and everybody gets to greet each other as they waddle down the central sidewalk to pick up their mail. Heavy deliveries are made through the garage. Firefighting is conducted through the sidewalk entrances, because that's where the hydrants are located.

The security-obsessed developments can put coded gates on the sidewalk entrances, directing transient footpath traffic around the blocks rather than inviting them through.

With this neighborhood design in place, we can then talk about the little stuff, such as recycling the laundry and shower water for irrigation, and putting twenty-buck sensors on the irrigation systems so they don't irrigate when it rains.

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