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Driveway or front yard, which is more valuable to you?

As many of you know, I continue to struggle with some bad back and hip pain suffered from a car crash I was in last year.  I'm still not able to run or hike, but I've been able to do more and more walking.  As a result I've been exploring many neighborhoods and making interesting observations.

Last week, I took an afternoon constitutional with my wife Fatima in Jackson Heights, Queens. We were strolling down a residential block near Laguardia Airport when she pointed out an extraordinarily quirky thing: one side of 80th street had driveway after driveway while the opposite side had none.  Not one.  And the contrast in the walking, living environment couldn't have been more striking.

Check it out. First up is the west side which had rows and rows of car parking, fencing and very little in the way of beauty.  It's primarily storage for metal boxes and the space is dictated by that.

By contrast the east side of the street is filled with gardens, art and beautiful trees.  It's really hard to believe this is the same block!

The visuals yield an amazing story: accommodation for cars ruins the living environment for humans. There are 28 driveway ports on the west side which puts cars (mostly) on concrete lawns.  Their presence makes that side of the block u-g-l-y.  There's almost no room for trees, shrubs, and plantings. And it dictates unattractive (and apparently obligatory) fencing to delineate "your" driveway.  Also of note: curbside parking is severely restricted due to this layout.

On the side without parking, it feels more like an integrated streetscape.  The flow from one yard to the next is sometimes seamless.  There is much less fencing. There's room for healthy-sized trees and creativity. The garbage cans are not as obvious. It's a really nice place to stop and chat with your neighbor.

If you want to get a POV feeling, below I put together a short video montage shot from the same spot on both sides.  Again, the juxtaposition is pretty remarkable.

80th Street Queens Contrast: Driveways Vs Front Yards from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

It's very intriguing why this block turned out the way it did.  In fact, some homes on the east side appear to once have had driveways which were later converted to front lawns. I asked one gentleman who told me he didn't know why it was the way it was.  Living on the west side, he said he enjoyed the convenience of having his own parking spot, but "if my house was on the other side of the street, it'd probably be worth a little more."

An overhead view of the street provides another perspective.   Notice the differences: the amount of concrete, the lack of on-street parking on west side and the abundance of greenery on the east side.

Ever seen anything similar in NYC?  Can you think of any reason why this street layout is so odd?



  • ioana

    i think they don't park cars on the right side of the street because the courtyards are too small. from the satelite picture it looks to me like you can't fit a car in that space. and maybe they have a bigger space on the other side.

  • http://twitter.com/toddedelman toddedelman

    Where is this on 80 St? But anyway,  I agree with Ioana. The block was probably designed much as it looks like right now, or all the neighbors on the ugly side decided to do the conversion, which the NIMFY neighbors on the pretty side liked as it created a bit more parking overall.

    But what size are the backyards? Without knowing more I would guess that the street does not perfectly intersect the land that was available on both sides. 

  • Jeff Jacobberger

    This appears to be exactly what has happened. If you zoom out slightly from the screenshot that is posted, the backyards of the houses on the west side of the street (where front yards are paved) appear to be mostly landscaped, while on the east side of the street (where front yards are landscaped) many backyards appear to be largely paved over and used for parking.
    I am no expert on whether alleys 

  • Clarence

    It is between Ditmars and 21st Avenue on 80th Street.  Yes this could be the case since looking at the overhead the front yards do seem shorter (it is a little skewed perspectively because of the Yahoo Maps line down the middle and the fact that there is curbside parking on the right and very little on the left).  However, down at street level walking there is enough room for the cars to park.

    I'd love to know when these were converted, why, the whole story behind it.  But likely it happened such a long time ago, that event the "oldtimer" I asked didn't have a clue.  In any event it is a very cool contrast on the same street - one side crappy looking, the other relatively peaceful and beautiful.

  • KeNYC2030

    It would be interesting to compare the property values and/or recent sales prices of homes on either side.  Thanks for the walk, Clarence!

  • http://twitter.com/vabike VA Bicycling Fed.

    In Victoria BC I noticed a lot of grasscrete doing double duty as front lawn/garden and parking space -- looks nice, and permeable for controlling runoff. Why don't we see this more?

  • Avany1

    East side of the street gets lots of sun - so having a garden, front lawn, flowers etc. is practical. West side not so much Sun. Snow doesn't melt so easily. owners probably get better use of a driveway. I don't blame them. Maybe it also free's up the street a bit from too many parked cars. Streets in Queens can be crowded - driveways can help.