What’s an easy way to connect with your neighbors, lower nearby crime, improve your home value, and be happier? Put a pair of Adirondack chairs in your front yard, says David Stocker, principal architect at Stocker Hoesterey Montenegro Architects in Dallas.
It’s a new incarnation of what’s called front yard living — using architecture and furniture like patio seating to create livable spaces in your home’s front yard. Nowadays, it seems like backyards are given more thought and focus for livable spaces than the front yard, but Stocker wants to change that for the greater good — helping bring neighborhoods back to the social melting pots they once were.
“The street, the porch, or the stoop in urban areas like New York— that is where all this social interaction started,” Stocker says. “Along the way, we got away from that neighborhood connection of seeing each other and conversing. We started doing it wrong, and now we really need that connection more than ever.”
That’s why Stocker has two Adirondack chairs in the front yard of his Dilbeck home in the Knox-Henderson area.
“When we moved there about a year ago, the first thing we did was tear up the front yard and put a vegetable garden in the front yard with a firepit and chairs around it,” he says. “My wife gardens in the front yard, and now she knows everybody in the whole neighborhood.
“I go and set up outside with a glass of wine, and most people just walk up and start talking. That’s my favorite things to do at night. Sometimes I just sit and watch people walk by, but the chairs essentially say, ‘Welcome, come and let’s have a glass of wine together.’”
Stocker is a fan of Greenwich Village writer and activist Jane Jacobs’ 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which offers sharp criticism of modern urban planning that moved away from dense, interconnected living in favor of more insular, independent home units.
For example, suburban residential streets became longer and less transversable by foot as automobiles made neighborhood blocks more- and sometimes only- accessible by car. Attached, rear-entry garages replaced detached garages and carports. Backyards enclosed with six-foot-tall privacy fences replaced four-foot chain link fences, all of which afforded neighbors connection, even if just a nodding hello.
Still, it’s surprising to hear an architect say that modern architecture and urban design is to blame for losing neighborhoods like they once were. “There’s just an arrogance to modernism,” Stocker says. “Don’t get me wrong, I love parts of modernism, but modernism had this view that it was okay to lose that connection to your neighbors. Now we know that was a mistake and we’re fixing it.”
Stocker cites Jacobs’ three fascinating qualities of a successful neighborhood. The first quality is a clear demarcation between public and private space, such as parks and playgrounds. The second is frequent use of neighborhood sidewalks so that people are out walking and visible. And third, what Jacobs calls “eyes upon the street.”
“Connection to your street and neighborhood make your streets safer,” Stocker says. “If you’ve ever watched Bewitched, it’s like the nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz who knows everything going on. You make fun of that lady, but that lady actually keeps the balance of what the street needs — being safe, keeping our kids in line, to keeping ourselves in line. I’m all for the nosy neighbor.”
What’s better than two Adirondack chairs in the front yard? Four, Stocker says. “That really invites your neighbors to come and stay a while.”