Planning a Great Neighborhood

This article by Michael Figura was first published in the New Life Journal.

While people make a place great, a neighborhood’s pattern of development has a large impact on how people within a neighborhood interact and socialize.  An important characteristic of a well planned neighborhood is that people have many chances to unexpectedly run into each other.  People who see each other on a frequent basis tend to have deeper relationships, which creates a stronger sense of community.

One pattern of development that fosters frequent interaction among neighbors is Traditional Neighborhood Development.  Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) is a new term that describes an older pattern of city development.  TND development is seeing a comeback today.  With TND development, homes are close to each other, are close to the street and are close to commercial areas.  Homes are close to each other to create enough density to support transit and pedestrian modes of transportation, both of which do not work well at low densities.  Homes are close to the street so that people who are on their front porches see their neighbors as they are walking by.  Homes are close to commercial areas so that people can walk places instead of having to drive.  Streets are designed to make walking safe, enjoyable, and easy.  Residents enjoy quality parks that are within close walking distance to homes and businesses.  In such a neighborhood, the built environment structures people’s daily patterns in such a way to foster frequent interaction among neighbors.

Juxtaposed to the Traditional Neighborhood Development is the typical American subdivision.  In the typical American subdivision, people usually have to drive every time they want to go somewhere.  Because driving isolates motorists from their environment, neighbors do not interact as much as they go to and from their destinations.  If you do not believe this, ask yourself how many people you know slowly drive through their neighborhood with their windows down telling everyone who is outside “good morning” while they are on their way to work?  If you do that, your neighbors probably think that you are a little bit strange.  On the other hand, if you walk to work and you pass your neighbors on the way, they would probably think that you were a little bit strange if you did not say hello… at least in the South.

Great neighborhoods usually do not just happen, but rather take careful planning by municipal planners.  Zoning codes can help create the type of development that fosters frequent interaction among neighbors.  Ironically, until recently, most cities and towns did not only discourage this type of development, but actually made it illegal.  For the last 60 years, zoning codes across America have by-and-large mandated automobile oriented development, where houses must be on large lots and must be set back far from the street.  But things are changing in many progressive cities and towns across the States, with a shift towards Traditional Neighborhood Development.

If you do not currently live in a neighborhood where the pattern of development fosters community, the good news is that you can work with municipal planners to help to transform your neighborhood by creating a Neighborhood Plan.  In a Neighborhood Plan, planners work with the community to identify residents’ goals and objectives for their neighborhood.  The planners then create strategies for how the neighborhood can achieve their goals.  The governing body (e.g. City Council), officially adopts the Neighborhood Plan and works with the residents to implement the strategies that were outlined in the Plan.  If creating a Neighborhood Plan for your community is something that interests you, a good way to get the process started is to get together with your neighbors and write a letter to the Planning Director of your municipality asking for a Neighborhood Plan to be performed in your area.