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My earliest memories involve the play of multi-family housing in primarily single-family neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. In fact, my father, a planner, was written up by a local newspaper for moving from suburban Wheaton, Maryland, into the District, which in 1957 was without a doubt counter-trendy. We moved to a nice little Tudor bungalow two doors away from busy Wisconsin Avenue.
The first door away was a ten-story apartment tower, and I used to wonder whether it had irked my father to have so many people looking down on our house and yard. The principal of my elementary school lived there, for example. I was not old enough to mind, but for my dad it must have been comforting to know that Mrs. Pickett and a legion of old battle axes were keeping a watchful eye on my brother and me.
We moved from there to a house (semi-detached, actually) a couple of miles away, four doors up from Connecticut Avenue on Rodman Street. Connecticut is lined with old apartment buildings which, by the time I was into my teens, were filling up with younger working folk who parked their cars up Rodman. Other people drove in daily from the ‘burbs, parked, and walked to Connecticut to catch the bus down to the Federal Triangle. For a teenager sitting on the front porch, waiting for dinnertime, it was paradise to watch them (mostly, it seemed, young ladies) return to their cars or apartments.
Today, in Providence, I live in multi-family housing — an old Federal/Italianate building that sits on Benefit Street. In Providence, few neighborhoods are without their quotient of multi-family housing. Most of the housing in this city is old. There are few areas without triple-deckers, townhouses, or apartment buildings already in existence. The lots are small, and houses are close together. There are 26 districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More so here than in most places, to integrate multi-family housing into single-family neighborhoods means mainly to design structures that fit into their historic context. …
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