Totnes. This could be the ideal of English terraced housing. (In the English usage, “terrace” simply means connected housing.) Lots of green space. Topography gives relief to the architecture. Small town, almost rural feeling, even if in an urban area.
This type of dwelling was developed formally in Europe during the 17th century. In the earliest times, it was generally reserved for the wealthiest members of society – think Royal Crescent in Bath or Place des Vosges in Paris. These were works of art, combining architecture, urbanism and landscape.
With the explosion of urban populations in the early 1800s, English urbanists determined that the best, most humane form of housing people was through terraced structures. And it seems to have been a benefit. In terraced housing areas, people were able to enjoy light, fresh air, greenery. Sure beat the shit out of living in dark, skanky housing in an urban center.
And yet…..The problem with these places is the lack of density. Yes, they are considered dense by suburban standards, but they are not dense enough to support the kind of urban life that makes many European cities wonderful – and sustainable. The amount of greenspace and land use separation ensures that there are great distances between housing and commercial areas. Efficient urban transport is more difficult too, as this level of density does not reward walking, nor does it adequately support mass transit. Biking could work as a transport mode, but in hilly England, use of bikes is very limited for most people.
This type of housing does benefit,however, from the private car. But parking, traffic, noise, safety anxiety, and pollution that they bring means it has become the antithesis of ideal suburban habitat.
So what to do? In an energy, environmentally and economically constrained world, how do these places fit in? Can these areas be retrofitted to increase density to make transport and mixed land uses more viable? Should these areas instead become outposts, communities on their own? Should they be abandoned and the materials salvaged and the land used to produce food and energy? Or should we just ignore these areas and hope for the best?