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 believes that ideas are free for all; the hard part is execution.
Because great places for people benefit us all, we offer up a number of the principles and techniques that work for most public spaces. That said, each client and space demands unique analysis and implementation strategies.
Maximize flexibility: Successful places are able to be used by the young and old, from day to night, in a variety of ways. Does your space offer things to do and see all day to all users?
Have many things to do in the space at once: Similar to the point above, are there a diversity of things to do? If one person wants to sit in the sun, the other in the shade – are they able to? Are there things to eat, see, play?
Provide movable chairs and tables: If you only do one thing for a space, put in movable chairs and tables. They allow for maximum flexibility, accommodating parties from 1 to 100. They facilitate conversation, unlike fixed benches. They allow for people to sit, look, and be where they want, when they want.
Focus on what happens between 2 and 12 feet: People’s sight lines are generally from the knee to a few feet above their head. Focus your energies on this spectrum. What does that mean? Less resources and attention spent on fancy pavers and 20+ foot lighting fixtures. More on eye level: hanging flower baskets, greenery, and programming that facilitate interesting pedestrian life.
Embrace Desire Lines: We have all seen them before in our favorite parks and public spaces: those dirt paths diverging from the paved surfaces where we are “supposed” to go. Instead of waging a never-ending battle of fencing these areas off, replanting them, and having them revert to dirt paths, embrace the people’s desire! Desire lines tell you where people really want to go. Instead of re-planting grass, consider paving these informal paths.
A powerful case study we draw on is from a college campus that reseeded its main quad. Instead of guessing where people would walk across it, they just let the desire lines develop and then created paved paths over them. This is a powerful metaphor for all placemaking: really listen to the people, and then give them what they want.
If you would like more ideas for your space or are interested in our tailored services, please Contact Us.
- Max Musicant
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