Sunday, January 08, 2006

Solving Problems Sunday

I'm glad I'm still young enough to believe I can solve the world's problems (or at least recognize and compliment folks who take steps in the right direction).

Was reading yesterday's Austin American-Statesman (which is maybe one, and hardly the other, but it's the closest "big-city" newspaper so I read it). At any rate, if I can get past all the digressions and perambulations, a couple of articles caught my eye. Squirrels do that, too. And rabbits. And wind-blown grocery sacks (paper or plastic, it matters not).

Anyway - damn it's hard to talk in a straight line - the first one had an intriguing headline: "Burglars Beware". It seems a family who lives in southeast Austin gets burglarized about once a year (not quite, but close enough for a pound-pup. A purebred would calculate it at once every 1.0714285714285714285714285714286 years, but that's where we go our seperate ways). So the woman of the family has made some signs basically saying she's fed up,Stop It Already, and has spent some recent time in her front yard baby-sitting those signs while her kids play nearby, and lo-and-behold, some of the neighbors have stopped to talk to her (and apparently a reporter named Tony Plohetski, as well. Hey, he's the one who brought it to my attention. He deserves credit). As an interim result, the police are coming by, and having a meeting in the neighborhood to set up a Neighborhood Watch, in addition to their regular patrol activity. So far, so good.

Now on to the second story. This one is headlined "Planners see future of city subdivisions, and it's retro." The sub-head is "Dream neighborhoods boast short blocks, no gates, zero cul-de-sacs." The City Council is, according to this story by Sarah Coppola, looking for ways to get people to rely less on automobiles and more on their own feet. The planners (not the Council, but the planners, though there is some Council support as well, notably from Dave Sullivan) envision narrower streets, houses closer to the sidewalks, and blocks shortened from the current 1200 foot average. Sullivan says, "If people can walk through their neighborhoods, they can more easily catch a bus or get to a rail stop."

And here's where the two stories start to come together: if people more frequently walk through their neighborhoods, they come to know each other better eventually, or at least recognize each other. They don't have to sit in their front yards with signs to have their neighbors pay attention to them, because they see each other every day on the way to the bus. Or the train. Or, heaven forbid, the neighborhood grocery.

See, it used to be that 13 standard blocks made a mile. That makes a block a dew-claw more than 400 feet, including cross streets and alleys and right-of-ways for the cats and the cable company. Figure 35 feet for the street and another 15 for the alley, divide the rest by two and it makes the average lot 175 feet deep. How many of y'all in those residential subdivisions and gated communities have a lot 175' deep?

I'll grant you there's a trade-off: that depth would make a 5750 square-foot lot only 35-plus-a-squirrel's-paw feet wide (5750 being the current minimum in Austin, TX (not Austin, MN, home of Spam and other fine products from Hormel (I hate when the wind blows and brings me another scent)), so that would have to be dealt with architecturally. But slow down a second before you panic and hurt yourself: if you have an alley, you don't have to have that god-forsaken ugly garage door on the front of the house. That saves you at least 20 feet right there (you suburbanites know you have a two-car garage. We do. We'd rather have an alley. It'd give the kids a safe(r) place to play, shoot hoops, roll dice, learn to smoke and drink, all the things kids do if you turn your back on them for a second. The smart ones learn to share their beer with the dog.) Besides. You get that garage out back, and when you raise chickens in it, no one will know. At least from the front of the house.

I appreciate your patience. Since you've been so kind, let me meander back to a final point: I honest-to-St. Bernard believe that shorter blocks and more accessible neighborhoods reduce crime. So it's fortuitous that the Austin paper reminded me of that this morning, as I read yesterday's paper.

Now. Alpha and Beta have gone off to their church, and I need to hop up on the bed with the cable remote and watch mine: the Wail-and-Bay-at-the-Moon Evangelical Free Dioces of St. Bernard. According to the TV Guide, the sermon promises to be a good one.

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