Snout Houses and McMansions

Many of the houses in my suburb, including mine, are what the Americans call “snout houses”. These are houses where a double garage door dominates the streetview.

Front doors are often out of sight, behind high fences and gates. You can’t tell whether there is anyone home or not.

Perhaps for residents who only come and go already encased in their cars, these are welcoming houses but they aren’t to anyone else. Instead of saying “Hello, welcome” they say “Leave us alone.”

And reading my local facebook group where security videos of quite innocent behaviour are regularly posted as “suspicious” I wonder if, as well as distancing the occupants from the street, it also makes them fearful and besieged in their luxury fortress.

This is the opposite of the porchmaking movement that encourages those in-between spaces for casual interaction across the public-private boundary.

In many Brisbane suburbs, porches would be too distant to interact with passing pedestrians. Instead, front gardens and verge gardens can fill that role of creating a space for the casual social interactions that help nurture neighbourhoods. That is one of the aims of the Shady Lanes Project.

Sometimes when I walk along our streets, these houses remind me of the corner stores of my youth – where a shopfront was attached to the front of the family home. How easy it would be to replace that solid door with a shopfront and convert it to a small shop or art gallery or cafe. Or even a home office looking out to the street.

Apparently I’m not the only one thinking such things – here is a Strong Towns ¬†article discussing the benefits of allowing¬†Accessory Commercial Units in our suburbs.

We already have some with some suburban home-based businesses so why not expand that to the sort of businesses that create meeting places and community?

The challenge could come from those with vested interests in car-dependent suburbs and making small businesses pay high rents for commercial real estate.