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The ugliest house on the block
This new construction at 2122 Fitzwater is turning into a real blot upon the landscape

It already was the House of Bad Karma for destroying a community garden, but 2122 Fitzwater is also a visual affront to the neighborhood.

Whoever dreamed up the notion that new construction must include offstreet parking surely had a screw loose.

Sure, it makes sense to want to keep Philadelphia's on-street parking from getting any more frustrating. But it opens the door to neighborhood-unfriendly designs like the new construction at 2122 Fitzwater Street (the Oxford Group) pictured at the right. While I was taking this picture, one passer-by commented, "they aren't even doing anything this ugly with public housing these days."

Here are two good reasons this housing design should have been shot down for the good of the community.

1. It is taking a public parking space out of play. Normally, the space in the street in front of this house would be available for someone to park in it at any time that it's vacant. Now, this portion of public street will be reserved for the exclusive use of the homeowner by virtue of the driveway and curb cut. This hardly seems fair to the taxpayers who must pay for the maintenance and upkeep of a piece of street they cannot use.

Before the house, there was the garden...

2. It's an ugly, antisocial house. In addition to the fact that its construction destroyed a beloved community garden [details], it shows a blank face to the community. This neighborhood was designed for a combination of foot traffic and public transportation. It was not designed for the kind of heavy reliance on the automobile prevalent in the suburbs. Philadelphia has the second-highest percentage of car-free residents of any city in the country, and this kind of construction is decidedly pedestrian-unfriendly.

Other buildings contribute to the streetscape.

The neighborhood streetscape includes many beautiful townhouses like the one shown at left. These are the kinds of properties that encourage pedestrian traffic. They're a pleasure to look at, and they make pedestrians feel safer on the street, because the windows provide "eyes and ears" in the community. And an improved feeling of safety translates into an improved quality of lilfe for the entire community.

It's even possible to design a townhouse with ground-level garage to minimize the unfriendliness of it at street level, as the Queen Village townhouse pictured at right demonstrates. Here the designer has included transom windows on the front door and a double window just above the garage door. The owner has further contributed to the effect with attractive container plants.

By contrast, the 2122 Fitzwater house presents some eight feet of blank brick wall above the garage door, effectively isolating its residents from the life of the street.

One wonders what sort of person would actually pay market rate for the ugliest house on the block, a house whose construction destroyed a community garden and one that holds itself so egregiously aloof from its neighbors. The buyer will have to live down the house's heritage and its anti-community design.




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