Architects have long been challenged by the dominance of the garage as residential lot sizes diminish and the number of cars to be accommodated increase. Narrow blocks and townhouse developments have created a situation where street frontages are reduced to rows of garage roller doors with little room left for a welcoming entry to each home. For better or worse, the garage is a troubling symptom of decades of car-centric planning.
An unintended consequence of the attached garage is that we can drive through our community, use a remote control to enter the garage and go straight into the privacy of our home without the bother of meeting our neighbours on the way. Even a trip to the letterbox is no longer a daily necessity as email ensures we have minute by minute communication with an outside world devoid of physical human contact.
Is the household garage our favourite room? It’s the place some started their first rock band; created a man-cave; or set up office in the early days of a business start-up.
Social isolation is now considered a major health issue affecting one in ten Australians. A UK study indicates that the health impacts of chronic social isolation has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is linked to increased mental health issues, greater risk of chronic health issues such as diabetes, and even early death. Lonely people are more likely to go to the doctor, creating a healthcare burden akin to obesity. As the Australian population gets older, rates of social isolation are expected to increase.
I have had the opportunity to observe my partner’s home, one half of a duplex with her niece in the other unit and the garage located at the back of the block. Access via a common driveway creates the opportunity for passing conversations with neighbours – and concern if someone is not seen out and about. The pay-off for an occasional dash in the rain is a greater sense of community and, if the research is to be believed, better health and a longer life!