Friday, November 12, 2010

urban | design.banter :: Lessons in Density: Silver Lake, LA, CA

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urban | design.banter 
:: infill | re-knitting our urban fabric | cohousing | keeping small towns from becoming suburbs :: why shouldn't where you live be somewhere you would want to visit?

My favorite tourist activity in any city is exploring neighborhoods. I have been to LA a hand full of times, but had only explored the more glamorous neighborhoods. Not that Silver Lake isn't glamorous (ask your Realtor), but I'm not sure how well known it is outside of the Dwell Magazine crowd, compared to say, Beverly Hills. It's a very hip neighborhood between downtown and Hollywood, snaking up in to the hills, known for its modern architecture (see Barbara Bestor's Bohemian Modern: Living in Silver Lake).

Silver Lake's residential areas have everything that I find interesting in neighborhoods: density, controlled chaos, nooks and crannies, diversity in housing types, abundant and varied landscaping. Silver Lake was designed for the house and the person, not the fire truck. I'm not trying to dismiss the importance of the fire department, I just think the fire truck should be designed for the neighborhood (i.e., smaller trucks), not the other way around, which is typical and one of the reasons for many of our freeway-width suburban streets.


Outdoor space is programmed. No space is wasted or taken for granted. There is no room for rarely if ever used lawn-and because of the area, drought tolerant native plants must be used. 

Driveway, yard, entry, fence--all in less space than the average great room

Privacy is created not by shear space but by creative landscaping, fencing, focusing on views, and placing living areas on upper floors.

The zero lot lines, Feng Shui appropriate tucked entries, and creative jumble of small houses reminded me of homes in Tokyo, though it is relatively flat there.

Cars can park on the street. The world will not end if a car has to wait 10 seconds for a car coming the opposite way to pass. This is also common in many dense Seattle neighborhoods: short blocks punctuated by roundabouts, two-way streets with cars parked on both sides leaving room for only one car to pass through.

Refreshing: treating cars as second class citizens, almost an afterthought to the design of the house and neighborhood.

The road can be the driveway and the alley. We even saw someone with all of their wood working tools set out in their barely 100 square foot driveway, less than a foot from the road.  

All of this is a cause and a result of cars driving slower. The zero lot lines and street enclosure that is therefore formed, thin streets, and cars parked on the streets create an atmosphere where motorists slow down and are very aware of their texting while driving here. The non-gridded streets add to this: streets twist and turn with the natural topography. 

We should not fear density, though so many do.  On paper, the stats of Silver Lake might be scary to those who see density as a four letter word: no driveways? No lawns? Thin, old streets? Houses practically stacked on top of each other? But the most dense neighborhoods in this country are consistently the most desirable. One look at housing pricing in the area show that we need more neighborhoods like this.

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