Chapter One

The private streets of St. Louis

Also in St. Louis, I came upon a series of turn-of-the-century neighborhoods whose homes were replicas of the small chateaux of France. They were the former palaces of St. Louis’ robber barons: the rail, beef, and shipping kings. These chateaux were positioned on privately-held streets, closed to through traffic. St. Louis in the mid-sixties was a city coming apart. The influx of people from the rural areas of the south had overwhelmed the city. It had one of the nation’s highest crime rates. But the private streets appeared to be oblivious to the chaos and abandonment taking place around them, they continued to function as peaceful, crime-free environments—a nice place to raise kids, if you could afford a castle. The residents owned and controlled their own streets, and although anyone was free to drive or walk into them (they had no guard booths), one knew that one was intruding into a private world and that one’s actions were under constant observation. Why, I asked, could not this model be used to stabilize the adjacent working and middle-class neighborhoods that were undergoing massive decline and abandonment? And was private ownership the key, or was the operating mechanism the closing-off of streets and the creation of controlled enclaves? Through research funded by the National Science Foundation (Newman, Dean, and Wayno, 1974) we were able to identify the essential ingredients of the private streets and provide a model that could be replicated throughout the city. This was done in both black and white areas, and also succeeded in stabilizing communities in transition.

Fig. I-8: Aerial view of typical closed streets in St. Louis.

The effect of housing form on residents’ ability to control areas

Over the next few pages I will explain how different building types create spaces outside the dwelling unit that affect residents’ ability to control them. Firstly I should explain what I mean by the “dwelling unit”: it is the interior of an apartment unit or home. And that is the case whether the unit is one among many in a high-rise building or sits by itself on the ground. What I am interested in learning is how the grouping of units in different types of building configurations creates indoor and outdoor “non-unit” spaces of different character.

For simplification, I have grouped all buildings into the three categories that capture the essential differences between them. These three categories are: single-family houses; walk-ups; and high-rises.

Single-family houses come in three basic types: detached houses; semi-detached houses; and row-houses (row-houses are also called townhouses).

Fig. I-9: Three types of single-family houses and the nature of spaces in and around them.

The fully detached building sits by itself, not touching any other building; the semi-detached building has two single-family units sharing a common wall; and the row-house building has a few single-family units sharing common walls with other units, one on each side. Although all three types of single-family building look different, they share an essential common trait: within the four walls of each type of building is the private domain of one or more families. There are no interior spaces that are public or that do not belong to a family. All the interior spaces, therefore, are private. Even the row-house is subdivided into a series of distinctly private spaces. There are no interior spaces within any single-family building—whether a row-house, a semi-detached building, or a fully detached house—that are shared by more than one family.

The fundamental difference in the three types of single-family houses shown is the density at which they can be built—which is to say the number of units that can be put on an acre of land in each of these three configurations. The upward limit of the detached house is about six units to the acre. The upward limit of the semi-detached house is eight units to the acre, but this allows for a driveway to be put between each unit, something that could not be achieved in detached units at six to the acre. Row-houses can be built at an upward limit of 16 units to the acre if one also wishes to provide off-street parking on a one to one basis.

When one looks at the grounds surrounding these three types of single-family units, one finds that all the grounds are private because they have been assigned to each unit. Regardless of which type of single-family building we look at, each has been designed so that each unit has its own front and rear yard. The front yard of each unit also immediately abuts the street. If we attempt to categorize the grounds as either private, semi-private, semi-public, or public, we would have to conclude that the rear yards are certainly private because they belong to individual families and are only accessible from the interior of each unit. The front yards also belong to individual families, but because they are accessible from the street as well as from the interior of each unit their character is different. I have classed them as semi-private because of this difference, but some people would say that they are really private.

Looking at the next classification of building—the walk-up—one finds that a radical new element has been introduced that totally changes the character of both the inside and outside of the building. We now have circulation areas within the building that are common, in that they are shared by a few families. The number of families sharing these common areas depends on how the entrances, corridors and stairs are distributed within the building.

Fig. I-10: Walk-up buildings and the nature of spaces in and around them.

In Fig. I-10, the walk-up building is subdivided so that six families share a common entry and interior circulation stair. Two families per floor share a common landing. Entrances from the common staircase usually exit to the outside at both the front and rear. Such buildings are often called garden apartments.

Walk-ups can be built at a density of 30 to 40 units per acre if they are three stories in height, and at a density of 20 to 30 units to the acre if they are only two stories in height. Three story walk-ups were commonly built in the 1950s and ’60s, but as these are non-elevator buildings, the three-story walk-up has fallen out of favor with the decline in housing demand.

Because the grounds surrounding three-story walk-ups, front and back, belong to all the families living in the building, they cannot be considered as private. The grounds in the front of the unit are also adjacent to a public street. For this reason I would categorize the grounds in front as semi-public space. The grounds at the rear of the unit are also not assigned to individual families and the rear of the units are often used for parking. In such a case, the grounds at back would also have to be considered as semi-public. It is, however, possible to modify the design of the rear grounds to make some of the areas private and the remainder semi-private, and I will demonstrate how to do that shortly.

We come now to the last of our three building types: the high-rise. These are elevator buildings and commonly come in two sizes, depending on the type of elevator used. The least expensive elevator is the hydraulic, but it has an upward limit of six stories. The electric elevator can comfortably go up to 30 stories, but is usually used in 10 to 16 story apartment buildings.

Fig. I-11: The elevator high-rise and the nature of space in and around it.

The six-story high-rise on the left has 48 families sharing common entries, elevators, stairs, and corridors. The 15-story building at the right has 195 families sharing these common interior areas. Because of the large number of people sharing them, these interior areas can only be designated as semi-public or even public. Even the corridors on each floor are shared by 13 families and are accessible from two sets of stairs and two elevators that are very public. For this reason I would have to designate these corridors as semi-public, if not public.

The outside grounds, because of their disassociation from any of the individual units, and the fact that they are shared by 195 families, can only be designated as public.