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For several years now I have been noticing how Calgarians are beginning to embrace their front yards as an important part of their homes. This was happening even before COVID, but I think COVID fostered a greater awareness of the importance of neighbours.
This is an important milestone in the evolution of urban living in Calgary. It means more and more people are willing and/or wanting to interact with their neighbours, and/or passersby rather than be isolated. It means Calgarians are evolving from solely worshiping privacy to a balance of privacy in the back and street friendly in the front.
First came the swings hanging from trees for the kids. Then came the Little Free Libraries that invited people to stop in front of their house and browse your discards or “pass forward” their books. (You can tell a lot about your neighbours by the books they have read or didn’t read or are willing to give away without even reading. I am never sure which it is.)
Then, more and more people were putting out colourful chairs, though seldom do I ever see anyone sitting on them. And in the last year or so, I have noticed how new infill homes in established communities are being designed with a front yard patio. It was never more evident than when we did a walkabout in recently in Renfrew and Hillhurst. It seemed like every other new infill has a concrete pad that allows owners to sit in the front of the house and interact with pedestrians if they wish.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was very common to see parents sitting on the porch, stoop or veranda especially on summer evenings waiting for the house to cool down (air conditioning was rare in those days) while the kids played on the street (which I am happy to report seems to also be experiencing a bit of a revival).
Urbanist theory 101 jargon goes something like this: the front porch existed as a zone between the public and private, an area that could be shared between the sanctity of the home and the community outside. It was an area where interaction with the community could take place.
Rise of the Patio Culture
Perhaps there is a correlation between the growing popularity of the street patios along Calgary’s pedestrian streets and the rise of the front yard patio. Seems like every year there are more and more patios along Calgary’s pedestrian streets in Kensington, Inglewood, 17th Avenue, Stephen Avenue and 4th Street S.W., in particular. And they keep getting bigger and nicer.
Dining al fresco has become extremely popular with Calgarians in the 21st century. Part of the charm of eating outside at a restaurant or cafe is not just being outside but interacting with others — being part of a bigger community.
As more Calgarians enjoyed meeting up with friends for drinks and meals on street patios, they began to realize they could have the same experience at home, especially those who embraced urban living.
Urban living is all about living in the public domain. It is about walking places rather than driving almost everywhere. It is about using public transit or cycling as a viable option for many of one’s everyday trips and hanging out at public parks and playgrounds.
Backyard/Front Yard Politics
As more people embrace their front yard, I wonder if that will help reduce the amount of “Not In My Backyard” protests. I hope so, though I somehow doubt it. In fact, one of the other phenomena in Calgary’s established communities is what urbanists are calling “front yard politics,” i.e., the placement of signs on your front lawn that declare your political position on everything from “Save Our” (healthcare, education and parks etc.) to “I Love” (Alberta’s oil & gas and nurses). No longer are front yard political signs limited to election time.
Rise of Gardening
Another interesting observation from my community walkabouts is the rise of the front yard garden. No longer is it just a front lawn. Today, more Calgarians are creating a front garden with flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs and even funky yard art. Perhaps this is partly due to the frustration of trying to grow a nice lawn in Calgary? Perhaps it is for water conservation? No matter what the reason(s), more Calgarians are creating a front yard more pedestrian friendly, with one or more of a patio, garden, playground and/or library.
I bought my house specifically because it had a porch where I could sit and look out at the world around me — say “hi” to anyone walking by. I love it when people stop and engage in a short conversation, usually about our front yard garden. It is the best way to meet new neighbours and/or reconnect with those you haven’t seen for awhile.
Just call me a “porch philosopher.” I love sitting on my porch and contemplating what life has in store all of us.