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January 18, 2019  

Is the Household Garage America’s Favorite Room or America’s Worst Mistake?

January 18, 2019

Picture a suburban house in anytown, America. Maybe you’re imagining a white picket fence, or a chintzy front yard rock garden; a half acre of freshly mown grass, or an explosion of diligently landscaped hydrangeas; a towering Tudor, or a quaint colonial. But we bet most of your mental images have one feature in common: an attached garage with that iconic roll-top door.

There’s nothing more American than the household garage—for better or worse. For some, the garage is a troubling symptom of decades of auto-centric city planning. We’ve put our homes miles from the basic necessities of life and all, requiring that every household own a private vehicle, or two, or three (and a place to store them all). For others, the household garage is a good thing: after all, shouldn’t car owners be paying the actual costs of housing their coupes and sedans, rather than parking on the street and effectively asking non-car owners to subsidize them?

But to even more of us, a garage is so much more than the place you stash your whip or a symbol of city decline. It’s the place you started your first rock band; your private weight-lifting studio; your ersatz office in the early days of your tech startup. And those emotional associations with the humble garage might impact our conversation on how to make our cities stronger more than we realize.

Inspired by a recent New Yorker article that explored the cultural significance of private car storage, How the Garage Became America’s Favorite Room, Strong Towns staffers Kea and Chuck investigated the Strong Towns perspective on this accidental American institution in the latest episode of Upzoned. Why do Americans love their garages so much? Would suburban metal bands and low-budget businesses suddenly disappear if the garage fell out of favor among homebuilders? How could our places be financially stronger if we devoted less space to these structures—or, better yet, let any citizen retrofit their garage into an apartment, or a storefront, or anything they pleased? And most importantly: what’s in Chuck Marohn’s garage right now?

Then in the Downzone, Chuck and Kea talk about the audio they’re listening to while they walk their respective dogs. Chuck has been devouring the most recent episode of Dan Carlin’s excellent Hardcore History podcast series, which explores the roots of the Asia-Pacific region from feudal times up until Pearl Harbor. And Kea just finished a listen to the audiobook edition of Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, which gives a personal take on what it looks like to grow up poor in the middle of America (and which she thinks Strong Towns fans would love).