Andrés Duany says that city dwellers give up a backyard for what they can access easily by just walking out their front door, and of course he is right. There is a sort of mathematical equation which controls it I’m sure, for as each individual’s private realm expands it reaches a point where the critical mass necessary for walkability is lost and what is accessed is no longer accessed out the front door but through the garage door and what was a public realm becomes privatized, stroaded, car-centered sprawl.
In communities which have retained the dynamism of functional streets having a private backyard space is almost exclusively for the extremely wealthy because, of course, land values are so high that such a luxury exists in trade for forgone productive “built” spaces.
My townhouse is land-locked by most people’s standards. I remember the original description of the property claimed a generous number of off-street parking spaces. I wasn’t able to discern how the block worked and so at first I assumed that the purported parking spaces were somewhere within the ensemble of buildings. They weren’t. There were no spaces. I was buying the building from a disintegrating law firm, and lawyers have a flexible relationship with the truth. What I did have was a patch of weeds located behind the mostly torn down fire escape. After a while I tamed it and it became this:
The truck was loaded with the stuff my daughter was taking to college, and the backyard was only accessible because a tornado had eliminated the chain link fence which existed as a barrier to a neighbor’s combination parking lot/back alley. You can see my initial attempt at creating a garden just to the right. My wife is wishing us a safe trip; but she was also making plans to transform that, into this:
Keep in mind, by the sellers this was viewed as wasted space at best. It mostly constituted an annoyance. For many one of the first questions they ask when visiting is not where they must park, but where do we park. The idea of having to have a free range car isn’t just unusual, it is downright troubling! It’s as though we had a balrog in the basement.
The backyard garden has had a good year in terms of productivity despite some difficulties: my mother died in April and much of the summer has been spent dealing with issues of her estate both financial and physical. Although it was somewhat neglected the garden managed to produce this German white garlic:
The strawberry bed was productive early on, and the grapes, while mostly used for shade, have been abundant if not beautiful. Every trip to the back now includes grabbing a handful of the champagne grapes. The Concord grapes smell fantastic and I’m hoping for homemade jelly: