Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
American houses used to be known for their front porches. Now, just as often, it's their garages that stand out. Homes with large garages jutting out in front have become so common that architects have coined a name for them: "snout houses."
Some cities are punching snout houses in the nose. Last month, the Sacramento city council adopted new design standards for single-family homes. Proportion is in; protruding garages are out: They must now sit flush with the face of the house. Moreover, the regulations say a garage can't take up more than 50 percent of the front of the house. Sacramento will grant homebuilders some exceptions, but Portland, Oregon, banned snout houses entirely in 1999.
Are Sacramento and Portland just being fussy? The cities' planners don't think so. They believe the new rules will make neighborhoods safer and build a stronger sense of community. "Prominent garages send a message: The car is first and the residents are second," says Jim McDonald, a senior planner in Sacramento. "People drive up, hit their garage-door openers and go inside without ever seeing their neighbors. We want people to be able to see their own front yards and their neighbors' front yards. It puts more eyes on the street."
Sacramento's standards don't stop at the garage. They encourage other basic design features, too: front doors oriented toward the street and some decorative trim on the side of the house that faces the street. In fact, the new guidelines even promote front porches.
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