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GRDadof3

The Unused Backyard?

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I thought this was interesting. A study done by UCLA found that although many Americans wish for a large backyard with their home, many aren't using their backyards much at all due to limitations on leisure time. If you have a backyard, do you use it a lot? If you have family with kids, do you find you seldom use your backyard, even in the Summer?

The unused backyard - Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

I think if people, including myself, realized how much more they could invest in their living space (their home) than in their yard, they might be very surprised what they can live without and what they would gain in more usable and enjoyable living space.

Agree, disagree?

I think one of the objections for families looking to move into older neighborhoods in the city is a lack of a large backyard. Could this perception that it's needed be changed?

That website also has some great entries regarding re-using underutilized mall space, and rebuilding neighborhood retail centers.

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I use mine in the summer pretty much every day. If you ask me, a back yard is less about having a private recreational area and more about having "space", whether its used or not. A lot of suburbanites don't like the feeling of having another house 10 or 20 feet from their own. Does it make a lot of sense? No, but that's the way it is. IMO.

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Agreed. I see more people using their backyards as a dog walk or a place to keep junk.

We live in downtown Holland and have a city lot with a small, but modest backyard. We don't have kids or pets that need much space, so we're converting 1/4 of our yard into a vegetable and herb garden.

My parents have a decent-sized backyard in Rockford. My brothers and I used to play football, baseball and golf out there all the time. Aside from breaking several windows, it was pretty awesome.

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I used my backyard the first summer on a regular basis - then again, I had a friend staying with us temporarily. We'd play horseshoes on a daily basis. Now, it's just there for me to cut in the summer and rake the leaves in the fall. I think once (hopefully!) we have kids it will be utilized heavily as 'play space'.

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I used my backyard the first summer on a regular basis - then again, I had a friend staying with us temporarily. We'd play horseshoes on a daily basis. Now, it's just there for me to cut in the summer and rake the leaves in the fall. I think once (hopefully!) we have kids it will be utilized heavily as 'play space'.

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It won't be. We have a decent sized backyard and our three kids probably use 25% of it regularly in the Summer. The rest is just more lawn to mow. In addition, kids really aren't that mobile outside until they are 2 1/2 - 3. And once they get old enough to really use it (6, 7, 8, 9) they would rather go to the park or to the neighbors' houses to play, or they want to play in the driveway in the front (bikes, big wheels, chalk) where all the action is. :wacko: The driveways in the suburbs today have become the new front porches (grills, chairs, beer, neighborhood hangouts).

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If I understand correctly, what you're suggesting, GRDad, is spreading the message that explains to people that the reality is, they're not using their backyards anyway, so focus on the inherent value of home itself, or enhancing the value of the amenities inside, and not worry about the lot size.

It's an interesting issue. I do agree that in older neighborhoods, people sacrifice yard space and that it's a real turn off to some. I seem to remember a post not long ago on this forum from a resident of Fulton Heights who was moving out to get some more space between himself and his neighbors. I took his frustration to be with the narrow side yards, living shoulder to shoulder. Some of the lots in a neighborhood like Fulton Heights are only 37.5 wide. But the backyards can also be surprisingly deep, 175 feet in some cases.

Bottom line is I think more poeple will soon start to realize how valuable their backyards are, however large or small. In the future, a lot more people are going to be following Greedo's example by using their backyards to start their own gardens, not for flowers but to grow their own food.

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Rock it out:

beforeandafter.jpg

yardGrass.jpg

Our house is small, so we put a decent amount of money into our back yard because it really is extended living space. It's pretty small (we're on a half lot), but it has the essentials: a deck, grill, plants, and grass. I can mow it with my reel mower in about 5 minutes. It's like an outdoor living room. I can get the internet, it has comfy chairs, and a decent space to eat. We used it quite a bit last summer (our first summer with our house). I would rather sit on the deck and have a few cocktails with friends than pay the premium to sit in a bar. The only issue we have is that it gets a LOT of direct sun, so it can be a bit uncomfortable. At our stage in life (mid 20's, no kids), we don't need bigger. I wouldn't want to mow it and there's certainly nothing playing back there except the squirrels.

Don't mind the Busch Light can, we're young and cheap :)

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We built a play fort in our (suburban) backyard, which takes up about 1/3 to half of the space. And our kids do play on it. The other half does not serve much purpose except for the occasional water gun fights, playing soccer/whiffle ball. We also have a deck in back that we grill on.

My neighbors on either side have inground pools. And one of them has outdoor parties frequently during the summer so I would say that they make extensive use of their backyard.

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The driveways in the suburbs today have become the new front porches (grills, chairs, beer, neighborhood hangouts).

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My family has a pretty good sized backyard. I wish we didnt though. Me and my brother play baseball back there, thats about it. Other than that, its just something i get stuck mowing every week.

EDIT: Twoshort- something like your back yard would be great. You did a nice job on that thing.

2nd edit- A pic of my yard ,from a while ago.

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Weve got the pole barn, which is my dad's hangout. Weve also cut some trails through those woods, but so have about 40 other people, lol.

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We had a 40'x100' corner lot with about a 15'x15' deck that took up the entire back yard. We painstakingly removed the deck, regraded, added a small patio and put in sod. This was for the kids and the dog. Unfortunately once it was complete, the kids preferred to play in the driveway and the dog never layed in the grass - only on the concrete of the driveway.

We have since moved to a bigger lot, 45'x135' - netting a bigger back yard. Last summer we removed about 10 loads of buried concrete from the back yard, regraded and planted grass. Again the kids prefer to play in the driveway.

Our kids (and dog) really do not care much for the grass of the yard. Maybe that will change.

I think that a nice function of back yards, particularly those on smaller urban lots is to provide a private outdoor space - for gardens, grilling, dining, etc. They provide a different zone than the front yard or the porch. The front yard is nearly 100% public and the porch offers a transitional element from public to private. In fact, the front yard and porch provide a series of transitional spaces from public to private. The back yard provides the private element, after filtering through the house.

While I was growing up, my parents had a huge, very private back yard. We could play baseball, kickball and many other games. We had a pool, jungle gym, sand boxes and a huge garden. The back yard was a refuge and still is for my parents. It provided numerous opportunities for all kinds of outdoor activities. Interestingly, when my kids go to my parents home, they spend hours outside playing - more than they ever would at our home. Conversely, my parents front yard was never, ever used. But the dynamics are totally different. We live on a tight urban lot and they live on a sprawling rural lot.

Ultimately, it just depends on what you want. But the back yard ultimately needs to be defined and private or it will not be utilized to its full potential.

Today, more often than not, larger lot subdivisions really do not provide much privacy in their back yards. When visiting these places they have a very strange feel. They are void of trees and even fences in some cases. They sometimes have a catch basin in the back yard for drainage. They almost all have an elevated deck, with the obligatory walk-out, creating even more of a surreal space. The more successful back yards are defined private spaces, without that element they are nothing more than sterile yards of high maintenance lawns.

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I grew up on a suburban 1-acre lot with a huge backyard. It was awesome and many of my fondest childhood memories occured outside, in that yard (football, baseball, skateboarding ramps, flashlight tag at night, pools, BBQs, etc.).

The decline of the backyard is a societal problem...not a vindication of urban living. If people had the time, and kids were helped to see the fun of the outdoors, backyards would be more heavily used.

Now I live on a city lot (to afford a house with a giant back yard in a place I'd actually like to live is cost-prohibitive) and while I love having parks nearby (walking distance) I actually miss that single great feature of suburbia: Place for kids to play unsupervised-but-watched-over.

Don't get me wrong. It would take a radical shift in my thinking to get me out of EGR and into a more suburban neighborhood (I relish the walkable nature of our community, and my 3 mile commute to downtown GR and the front porches that allowed me to get to know our neighbors within weeks of moving here). But having said all that, I have absolutely no illusions....backyards can be awesome places for kids to play.

I definitely agree with GR Town planner..the new trend of drainage basin, 10' elevated deck and zero trees in the backyards of modern suburban neighborhoods doesn't lend itself to usage. Go see a 'hood from the 60s though (that's where I grew up). We had no walk-out basements, nearly level back yards, decks were 6 inches above the grass and kids from every direction could play in the expanse of lawn. It really was great.

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What's interesting is that lot of new houses, even with normal decks at a normal height, do not have stairs going from the deck to the back yard. The backyard seems to be merely a decoration in a lot of cases, and not really intended for use.

I like having a somewhat-large backyard. I don't really get the point of a front yard. I never use it for the reasons that GRTP said: it's not the least bit private (and the dog likes to chase things). Give me a ten foot front setback and fifteen or 20 more feet of backyard and it would make more sense if you ask me. The front yard seems like its wasted space in most cases.

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A lot of the elevated decks in the suburban neighborhoods are there because people want either a daylight or walkout basement with full size windows, as opposed to a standard basement with either tiny windows or a big egress window in a well. The developers know this and design the layout of the neighborhood to try and accommodate as many of those setups as possible. They even go so far as to heavily discount the flat lots because very few people want them, especially if they are flat with no trees.

Growing up we never used the front yard because it was on a rural/suburban lot that was right on a primary road with a 50 mph speed limit. We weren't allowed to. Now my kids use our front yard just as much as the back yard, but still we could probably suffice with 1/2 the lot we have, which is probably 165' x 85' (corner lot). I'm no gardener, but I do like to work on the landscaping every summer.

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For nine years, my family lived on a approx. 100' x 200' suburban lot on a Cul-d-sac street (in Lake Bella Vista). The lots on either side of us were empty until the last two years that we lived there so for a while it seemed like our house sat alone in the middle of a 300' x 200' lot. The back end of the lot abutted one of the wooded common areas and a steep hill. Eventually the house on the neighboring lot was built with such a deep setback that it was virtually in our backyard. The side of their house didn't have any windows so even though it wasn't all that great to look at, it did sort of close in the side of our backyard. The house did have a walkout basement with a raised, main level deck (but with stairs). Of course fences weren't permitted unless used for decorative purposses.

Even then, our back yard didn't get too much use. However, that could have been attributed to its poor drainage. The lots had been graded so that all of the water would drain from lot to lot around the cul-d-sac until it eventually drained into the lake on the other side of the road. And then the house a few doors down raised their lot a few feet at the despence of three of their neighbor's lots. Our back yard was a pond for several years and the water actually flooded the basement a few times. We were eventually able to fix the problem to the point that the grass was only "soggy" after it rained.

We used our front yard alot more, especially the driveway (which was 50' long because of the required house setback). And when considering the lot size, the front yard offered plenty of space. We even had some decently mature trees.

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I use mine in the summer pretty much every day. If you ask me, a back yard is less about having a private recreational area and more about having "space", whether its used or not. A lot of suburbanites don't like the feeling of having another house 10 or 20 feet from their own. Does it make a lot of sense? No, but that's the way it is. IMO.

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Like Greedo, I am on a small city lot in Holland (51' x 130') with a detached garage. My rear deck (southern exposure), roses, hammock and grill are my little oasis -- even with neighbors on both sides.

I think there's an inborn feeling of belonging that comes with owning "a piece of land". Standing out there and surveying the "back 40" -- even if it is only 40 feet and not 40 acres -- still stirs the pioneer sprit. I know I'm certainly not ready for a downtown apartment. Maybe some day...

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I spent my first 10 years without much of a backyard in the heart of GR. I shared a little grass with next door neighbors, otherwise we played on sidewalks, the driveways, and just all around the nearby blocks and on rare occasion, the playground of Congress School and Wilcox Park. I don't feel I missed out on anything by not having a yard. Then we moved out to Cascade, where my family "homestead" was a half acre lot. The front yard was more useable than the back and that's where I and my friends usually hung out (fewer trees, more level ground and we could keep tabs on the comings and goings in our neighborhood). But as we got a little older, the yards meant less and less to us. Now I live in a large townhouse with a small front and back yard and it's more than I want to care for. When I retire, I'm finding a condo/loft with no yard. However, my community (older suburban) has lots of parks and open space. I look out over a duck pond and up the hill behind me to more open space and there's a park at the entrance of my townhouse development. Just another few blocks a way, there's another park and just beyond that, another one. Many are a mixture of active and passive uses, including every thing to swing sets for kids, grassy open areas for frisbee and touch football, to natural areas and wildlife habitat left untouched.

Parks and open space can make up for missing out on a big yard, but a community has to make a commitment to providing those. I don't think Cascade has more than two parks, one near I-96 which is not that accessible to many people on foot or by bike, and the little pocket park on the Thornapple near the village. But then, maybe it's because so many residents in Cascade have sizeable yards of their own.

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Here's my current suburban Grandville backyard. Personally, it's too big for my family since my son is only 9 months old, but I must say it gets plenty of use by the neighbor kids. And though I am a fan of living on small lots I do understand the appeal for this type of setting in a suburban neighborhood. For me I feel like I have all the privacy in the world not having a house in my backyard but when I spend time out front I often end up chatting with neighbors and enjoy meaningful conversations. Maybe someday I'll be in the city, but for now I'll let my son enjoy the same suburban setting growing up as I did. I cherish my childhood memories playing in my backyard.

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And here's my next backyard. We'll be building here this year. Same type of suburban setting in Grandville yet again.

405077939_fb6d5650e5_o.jpg

Future Backyard (June-July 2007)

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Parks and open space can make up for missing out on a big yard, but a community has to make a commitment to providing those. I don't think Cascade has more than two parks, one near I-96 which is not that accessible to many people on foot or by bike, and the little pocket park on the Thornapple near the village. But then, maybe it's because so many residents in Cascade have sizeable yards of their own.

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I seem to remember a post not long ago on this forum from a resident of Fulton Heights who was moving out to get some more space between himself and his neighbors. I took his frustration to be with the narrow side yards, living shoulder to shoulder. Some of the lots in a neighborhood like Fulton Heights are only 37.5 wide. But the backyards can also be surprisingly deep, 175 feet in some cases.

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My ears are ringing...and you're right, our place (rental house) in Fulton Heights does have a significant back yard and a bit of a front yard. It's the width of the lot that's the issue....

My wife and I looking to move right this moment...

My wife and I are torn with this, we love the house but just aren't sure how we would feel without having a back yard.

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