This Little Free Library guest post comes from Max Musicant, founder and principal of The Musicant Group, an award-winning placemaking firm dedicated to “creating places where people feel alive.” Here, he writes about their latest project: Friendly Front Yards.
August 1st was National Night Out – one of the best evenings of the year for our neighborhoods. Across the country countless people come together in streets, sidewalks, and parks to spend a warm summer night together with food, fun, and conversation.
Why can’t every night be National Night Out? The answer is that it can be!
Over the last two years, from seeds planted in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Friendly Front Yard (FFY) placemaking movement has grown; transforming American front lawns into places that bring people together and strengthen communities.
This impulse is nothing new for those with Little Free Libraries in their yards – it’s what we’re all about! But through the practice of placemaking you can leverage your LFL to create an even friendlier yard, meet your neighbors, and build community! By one measure those that utilized the Friendly Front Yard approach met, on average, five new neighbors!
By applying these 5 strategies to your front yard, you too can create community, one front yard at a time:
1. Semi-enclosure and permeability
Spaces that are too open make us feel exposed; too closed and we can feel safe, but cut off. The semi-enclosure of a good porch or a cozy booth at a restaurant feels good. These spaces allow you to choose whether to be social or private. Create semi-enclosures through rows of pots, low shrubs or walls, trellises, or the overhangs of trees.
2. Have several things to do
If there is nothing to do, there is no reason to be somewhere. Think about what you and your family want to do: read, sleep, eat, grill, garden, play, etc. and then create the conditions where those can happen in the front yard.
3. Consider sunlight and shade
Sun in the morning comes from the east when it is cooler. In late afternoon and evening it shines from the south and west when it is hotter. Consider how activity areas interact with the sunny and shady parts of your space and if additions such as shade or movable elements are needed.
4. Have (moveable) seating
If you can’t sit down comfortably you won’t want to stay very long in your front yard. Place movable seating so you can constantly adjust the arrangement to accommodate any view, group, or use.
5. Protect your back
Having a structure behind you – like a house, ledge, tree, or hedge – makes one feel comfortable. Protecting your back prevents being (and the anxiety of being) surprised and ensures a good view out to a larger vista. In general, have your back at least perpendicular and not directly facing the street or an active pathway.
Bonus! Boundaries that bind
This strategy ties the other 5 together. Boundaries are too often thought of as dividers, but they can and should bind two sides together harmoniously. Celebrate and enhance the boundary places where two things meet: grass and path, house and yard, garden and hill. The possibilities are endless! Make these boundaries special places in of themselves and watch your yard come to life before you.
With these strategies, you and your neighbors can create places where you want to be, where children play, where food is eaten and prepared, where relationships are formed, and where serendipity becomes the norm.
For more information and to download your free Friendly Front Yard toolkit, visit www.friendlyfronts.com.
To read the full blog, go here.
The Musicant Group is honored to announce that we are featured on page 10 of this impressive "Culturally Enriched Communities" report by University of Minnesota College of Design and the Urban Land Institute Minnesota (ULI MN)! Thanks for showcasing our work and dedication to creating places where people want to be.
This report on moving toward culturally enriched communities is about how:
"The state of Minnesota consistently ranks among the top 10 states in the country in terms of quality of life, based on wellbeing indicators such as employment rates, education, income, safety, health, environment, civic engagement, accessibility to services, and housing (Hess & Frohlich, 2014). In parallel, the Greater Minneapolis and St Paul (MSP) region is noted among the country’s most innovative cities, for transportation infrastructure and economic development, programs to help immigrants start businesses and artists buy real estate as well as public health efforts (Eugenios, Hargreaves, & Rawlins, 2014). The MSP region has also been named by the researchers at Parenting Magazine as one of the top five places in the country to raise a family (Schmidt, n.d.). And, with over 180 parks within its boundaries, Minneapolis holds the title of the Nation’s best park system (The Trust for Public Land, 2015) and is ranked as one of the top biking cities in the country, with 92 miles of on-street bikeways and 85 miles of off-street bikeways (City of Minneapolis, 2015). The arts scene follows suit--the MSP region is second only to New York City in live theater per capita and is the third-largest theater market in the United States.
Positioning the state for a vibrant and prosperous future is tied to demographic projections that by 2040, close to 40% of Minnesota’s population will be people of color, many of them international immigrants (Metropolitan Council, 2012). In 2013, only about 18.1% of Minnesota residents were people of color versus 37.4% at the national level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014).
Although Minnesota enjoys high ranks in many quality of life indicators, it also experiences disparities in health, education, and income between whites and people of color. Given that a diverse population is key to economic and cultural vitality, designers, planners, policy makers, housing developers, neighborhood organizers, and others who are striving to unravel how to integrate the state’s social, economic, cultural, environmental, and technological resources face multiple questions:
Culturally Enriched Communities are an inherent part of planning processes that strengthen an area’s ability to plan for the growth in diversity in ways that can position the region to rank among the best in world while improving upon the indicators of uneven disparities. Culturally Enriched Communities include environments that support diverse ways of living. Recognizing the potential that lies within each individual and group and how places, both public and private, can impact one’s ability to be the best that they can be, Culturally Enriched Communities allow for the creation of municipalities that can contribute to the prosperity and well-being of all people. The creation of Culturally Enriched Communities relies on planners, policy leaders, housing developers, and others who feel an obligation to understand those they are working with and are interested in the lives of others.
These decision makers recognize that people construct meaning in life through different ways, that is, how they cook, what they eat, what they wear, how they socialize, how they speak, how they pray, and how they play is diverse. Diverse ways of living are outcomes of numerous factors including distinct ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds, histories, religions, incomes, ages, gender, abilities, and circumstances. As a result, the design of public and private spaces must be adaptable and flexible, able to be easily adjusted to the multiplicity of lifestyles and needs that our region’s future will hold."
To read the full report, go here.
Written for the 612 Sauna Society blog for the Little Box Sauna at the Piazza on the Mall:
The need and desire for human connection is fundamental to our daily happiness.
Unfortunately, through the spread of suburban land use patterns and the many
elements of computer/mobile technology we as a society are getting fewer and
fewer organic and serendipitous opportunities to connect with each other as fellow
In my work through The Musicant Group, our team thinks (and does!) a lot around
how to create physical environments that reverse these troubling trends. We’ve
found that there are a few critical factors that have a disproportionate impact on
whether a space is inviting, alive, and facilitates community:
How much of the environment is in the user’s hands? Can they easily choose to be in
a public place vs. a private place? Can they sit in the sun or the shade? Can the move
things around so that they are “just right” for that given situation.
Dynamic Transitions and Borders:
In the natural world, thick transitions between zones reinforce each side, bind them
together, and are also often dynamic places in of themselves. Think of the rich
ecology of the edge/marsh of a lake or river. A low sitting wall that lines a pathway
and protects an inner park or garden. Or our lips. Even life events such as birthdays,
bar/bat mitvas, and seasonal holidays create important and dynamic border
transitions for our lives and society.
Things to do:
Why should someone be in a given space? Are there things to experience, eat, enjoy,
play, buy, go, etc. If there are a few good reasons for people to go and stay in a place,
than it stands that there will be a few people in the space.
The best saunas have each of these three elements.
There is a choice of where to sit, heat level, length of stay, view, etc.
There are clear and enjoyable transitions and borders: the outside, the changing/anteroom, the threshold of a doorway, the seat near the door, the upper bench spot. There are also the transitions of activity: arrival, changing, heat up and cool down cycles, dressing, and transitioning back to our everyday lives.
And, there are things to do: the sauna itself, but just as important: talking, eating, drinking, cooling down, sitting by the fire, etc.
The sauna experience inspires us on how we can shape our own environments and
daily routines to increase the sociability and happiness for ourselves and our
– Max Musicant
To read the whole blog, go here.
The Musicant Group Team