Through a series of meetings and manuals, therefore, renovations were suggested and encouraged for making rear additions, building porches and terraces, installing new windows, landscaping and lighting backyards, and for coordinating the process with neighboring owners. Much like the prototype of the suburban front yard, the formal front of each building would be oriented towards display. In suburban design, the front yard is setting to display the grand front of the family’s house. No real “living” takes place on it, save the maintenance of the yard or of the car in its driveway. The real activities of family’s daily life are focused to the privacy of backyards, patios, decks, and porches and in rooms which open up to them, such as the kitchen or family room. People like the freedom to enjoy their outdoor areas and this construction ensured that homeowners, who need private outdoor areas, could use the back of the house to unwind or entertain. Making it easier for residents to de-formalize the backs of the house, then, served to compensate both for the limitations of Otterbein’s small backyards as compared to the sprawling yards in suburbia and the restricting “publicness” of the front of the house. Many design and structural ideas to maximize the enjoyment of backyards were considered. Residents were advised with informational guidelines on how to take into account the effects of sunlight, air movement, prevailing breezes, and acoustics, when they were organizing their landscaping choices. Designs of gardens, decks, and shared backyards placed emphasis on comfort, convenience, and privacy.
But to Otterbein’s planners, the division between indoor and outdoor living was seen to be less distinct than it had been for earlier generations living in the older houses. This goal was essentially to incorporate, through the renovation of backs of the house and portions of the house, which could not be seen from the street, various design features which were intended to make the interior living space more on par with contemporary standards available in newer house. Designers insisted that, “…rear walls [should] be punctured to create more openness indoors …skylights may be added to provide more internal light….Roofs can be altered and terraces can be added to create more outdoor living space” 4 Related to providing for a contemporary lifestyle was the necessity of including space for the automobile. The car, the plan states, would have to be recognized as an important part of the modern residential life. The plan called for the majority of parking to be on-street so “as not to use up valuable land internal to the blocks.” Nevertheless, internal parking along mid-block alleyways and block interiors would be provided, but its would be kept to a ratio of 1:3 spaces per unit. The design emphasis, in preserving the pedestrian potential of the neighborhood, would be to minimize the appearance of parking. Interior parking would be handled with a variety of landscaping concealments: brick walls, hedgerows, wooden fencing. Street parking would occur in concave strips along the street edge. This was achieved by narrowing the streets at their ends and extending sidewalks into small plazas. Additionally, this design would help to serve non-parking related functions to contribute, rather than take away from, the public realm. First, narrowing the ends of streets with extended or closed plazas would slow the movement of traffic for the safety of pedestrians and children at play. Second, it would provide a clearer orientation of the street for pedestrians, indicating by the expansion of widths, places for street crossings and socializing. Third, it would ensure a neater street appearance, by having cars tucked into spaces, concave and flush to the perceived street edge, and consequently keeping parking consistently behind a visual boundary line.
Such an appearance of the streetscape and the buildings as coherent street walls was an important consideration for the planners. This was not only out of concern for urban design and attractive city neighborhoods, but also in the attraction of middle class families. Otterbein’s comparative advantage to the suburbs, in physical terms, rested in its streetscape and design character, and its proximity to the downtown and its waterfront. According to Baltimore city planner, Don Duncan: “Baltimore could not compete with its suburbs [back then].. .there was so much to overcome and it was more than just a perception. If you weren’t interested in the education of public schools, you would still have to give people parking and security, patios, backyards and so on… Existing family neighborhoods that were already established were too pricey for most suburbanites…. [but] Otterbein worked because it was something they didn’t have out there [in the suburbs]. The overall look of the neighborhood was kept consistent and made it an identifiable place. And the Inner Harbor was so different.. .well, that really made it special and gave the project a chance…”5 Another factor in the “competition” was the quality of life available inside the home. Older homes in Otterbein were built before electricity, and those which had retrofit it later, relied on wiring that was by now old and faulty. The possibility of a modern life dependent on refrigerators, washing machines, and computers was not easily sustainable in many city neighborhoods. Plumbing was another problem, as was energy efficiency, and the inconvenience and required special maintenance associated with old housing facilities. Because of this, there was the endeavor to infuse “newness” into the neighborhood. This would, the planners reasoned, ensure that the neighborhood would become and remain competitively attractive with newer suburban environments. Energy saving devices and insulation were required in the building code, as were standards for plumbing and electrical wiring. But most renovations, were simply made by suggestion, in wayssimilar to the guidelines for the treatment of backyards and rear buildings.
Under a section of the design guidelines called “modern conveniences” homeowners were advised not to wait, but to upgrade their houses during renovation. For example, the guidelines advised: “During rehabilitation, it is most desirable that central air conditioning be installed” They also anticipated such issues as radio and television antennae which would be restricted visibility from the street. Instead, the more up-to-date alternative of connection to cable television — being made available for the first time in the neighborhood — was suggested. 6 Encouragement for the installation of contemporary conveniences in rehabilitated houses was seen as a necessary strategy to upgrade their immediate and future desirability. Additional newness features include gas heat and central air conditioning, insulated exterior doors and windows, skylights, and cable and telephone pre-wiring. Kitchen amenities, often available in older houses only through retrofitting, come newly installed with warranties: name-brand appliances, no-wax resilient floors, a selfcleaning gas-cooking range, a dishwasher, built-in microwave, garbage disposal, and generous cabinet and storage space.7 Construction of new houses, however, would have the impetus of the market to provide such standards. Since Otterbein’s inception, various construction projects have added new residential units to its area and along adjacent areas. While all exterior design is required to be conforming to the neighborhood, a reliance on the market to produce modern interior and exterior conveniences has been successful. An advertisement for new townhouses currently being constructed at the boundaries of the neighborhood illustrates this fact. Consisting a series of townhouse with a nineteenth century appearance, evidence of the installed “newness” behind older-looking facades has followed Otterbein’s goal.