In addition to the way previous generations built adaptively given natural forces, I’m enamored by how property was understood to be an economic tool. Homes weren’t merely a static asset meant to appreciate passively over time or convey status. They were assumed to be productive businesses. Why wouldn’t anyone want to make some extra money by renting out a portion of their home? Why wouldn’t the front yard be built out into a profitable enterprise? The older parts of Sacramento are full of Roosevelt-era corner shops and home-based businesses.
Yes, this was raw, unbridled capitalism. But it also solved problems in a straightforward manner. These neighborhoods needed grocery stores, lunch counters, churches, barbers, and “affordable housing” so local property owners simply supplied it. Very often, the front lawn was the perfect place to build such an establishment. If one small enterprise failed, as many did, something new took its place. A century ago, this was just common sense.
Was this set of arrangements perfect? Absolutely not. The culture of the time had its own non-negotiable imperatives. “Irish need not apply.” “No Negros or Chinamen.” “No Jews or Catholics.” Blah, blah, blah. But over time, society traded one set of constraints for another via exclusionary zoning. Individual properties and neighborhoods are now prevented from adapting over time, so problems just fester and multiply.