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Neighborhood Patterns

The character and quality of our neighborhood streets and parks are, in large part, created by the design of the houses and buildings which line them. For example, standing on the sidewalk of a traditional neighborhood street in Baltimore, Maryland, we find ourselves in a public space that is the result of the cumulative contributions of privately owned, individual houses with their porches and front lawns, as well as the publicly owned street trees, sidewalks and street. The facades of houses are all in the same plane which defines the urban space, but each facade is different, as are the porches and landscaping in the yards. The key to understanding this space is in its cross section. Although the physical form of the public space is defined by the facades of buildings, the legal definition of public and private is the property line located at the inside edge of the sidewalk. The space between the property line and the facade, which includes the front lawn and the front porch, is owned by the individual but is also a contribution to the public realm. The front facade of the house and the front yard are the most lavishly designed and decorated parts of the house. They represent a “gift to the street” from each individual. Historians of African American culture argue that the porch’s origin is in sharecropper cottages and it represents as significant a contribution to American culture as Jazz.

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