Duck Duck Book

9 – ranches, rowhouses
01.26.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Ranches, rowhouses, and railroad flats : American homes : how they shape our landscapes and neighborhoods / Christine Hunter.
New York : W.W. Norton, c1999.
[MCL call number: 728.0973 H945r 1999; two copies, no holds]

As you can see I've been going through a bit of a fascination about architecture and urban planning. Ranches and Rowhouses contains a measured analysis of how United States homes work as a feature of cities and suburbs, and how they impact the cultural, natural, and civic environment. Hunter examines what we need from our shelters, the history of how people have tried to arrange and enforce minimum standards for housing, the history and evolution of various kinds of dwelling houses (these are divided into three groups, freestanding houses, attached houses, and apartments), and how neighborhoods function and how homes and neighborhoods work together. This sounds really academic-o-rama, but Hunter's writing style is very familiar and accessible. If you're interested in this subject, you should find the book very easy to read.

The discussion of neighborhoods is very interesting. What makes a neighborhood? How do we define them when we live in them, and when they belong to other people? How do they change over time? What factors make the neighborhoods of the late 20th century so different from 100 or 200 years before? In the course of this final chapter, Hunter amplifies arguments made earlier in the book about the inward focus of dwelling reform and planning — for example, why do we have standards that require that each newly built or remodeled dwelling unit have a full bathroom, while in most places we have no requirement at all that there should be toilet facilities in outdoor public places like parks or shopping districts? And she gets down on the automobile quite a bit, especially as she points out some specifics about how everything about housing and community planning has come to be driven by the perceived need to suite every space to driving, parking, and accessibility by car.

The book is illustrated throughout with beautiful, clear line drawings of façades, floor plans, interior views, and development and neighborhood plans. The text is followed by a bibliography and index.


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