Sunday, May 13, 2007

When your neighbors overcrowd their house

Reading this article about overcrowding in suburban neighborhoods, it reminded me of my own street when I moved here 6 years ago.

One of my neighbors lives in a house much like my own: a 4 bedrooms 2.5 bath colonial. The houses are big by historic standards (~3000 square feet on three levels), but small compared to the typical suburban monstrosities that are populating the newer Northern Virgina suburbs.

Those first few years were interesting. My family and I had lived in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. The houses were "twins" or duplexes on a narrow one-way street. There were frequent squabbles about parking and crowding. In comparison, my newer home is on a wide suburban cul-de-sac. We back up to a wooded area that (at the moment) cannot be developed, so we were looking forward to having extra room.

We were surprised by the number of cars parked in the cul-de-sac by two of our neighbors. The house right next to us had no fewer than 4-5 cars on an average day. People were always coming and going. But the house at the far end of the cul-de-sac was as busy as Union Station at rush hour. Most days there were between 10-12 cars and a large truck parked in front the of the house. People were driving into the cul-de-sac at high speeds and parking in the most unusual places. What I once saw as a wide cul-de-sac looked pretty narrow when things settled down in the evenings.

Can you guess what my neighbors looked like?

They were white middle and working-class families who had between 3-5 kids. Those kids had become that menace to American society known as the driving teenager. And friends--did they have friends. They must have been among the most popular teenagers at the local high school (if traffic flow is any indication). In both homes the said teenagers often had overnight guests: their buds, love interests, visiting relatives.

It was quite an experience. Do you know what I did about it? Nothing.

Do you know why? Because I truly believe, as much of a pain in the bazooka it was, the house belonged to the neighbors, not me.

Did I like it? Not at all. It was really annoying sharing a driveway with a family that basically lined the entire place with cars. It was annoying to wake up on a Sunday morning to find a car almost blocking my drive (it turns out one of the young men in question was quite a romeo, and his paramour had rushed into the house and parked on my side of the cul-de-sac rather than that of Mr. Stud).

My point is this: many older suburban neighborhoods were not designed for D.C. in 2007. Who would have dreamed in 1970 that families would be so foolish as to by each of their teenagers their own cars? Who would have guessed that parents would have been so lax (or liberal, depending on your position) to have their son's and daughter's one night stands take place in their own home?

Life has changed a great deal in the intervening years since my subdivision was built.

Fast forward to 2006. One of the long-term rental properties on my street went up for sale. It was a slow time for the real estate market, but when it did sell, two young men bought it: an Asian and Latino. They're business partners, and they're very young, so they have (just for the two of them) 5 cars and 3 large construction vans. We have no prohibition in our neighborhood about trucks, etc., so on the weekends and late in the evenings, the street and driveway is crowded with lots of cars, but it is just the two of them.

I may not like everything that goes on in my little corner of suburbia, but I'm not willing to move out to Loudoun County on a large property and commute my life away. This is not ideal, but it works. And when I get really annoyed, I go onto my deck (which faces away from the street and into the trees) and thank God for flood plains.

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