Why do people set apart some places as “Great place to live in”? What are the distinctive features of a good neighborhood? There are innumerable factors to be considered for a place to acquire the title “A Good Neighborhood”. Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), New Urbanism and Smart Growth design theories are recurrently heard terms and is always favored by planners, officials and common people. Though there are very minor differences in these theories, they all share the common concept of creating a good, sustainable and viable neighborhoods. All the design concepts of a good neighborhood focus on alternatives for sprawling suburbs and mainly feature sense of place. As noted by Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), a high performance, value creating neighborhood should be devised by valuing the space around you. It should be developed with inviting sidewalks and public spaces; should be compact and well connected with transportation network; to be pedestrian and bicycle friendly; to be mixed-use and to be healthier and greener development. Variety of housing types is another prevalent characteristic of a good neighborhood. A collection of housing choices encourage people to find a spot in smart growth community and aids to develop a strong sense of community among residents (SmartGrowth.org).
The American Planning Association recently released the list of 2011 “Great Places in America”. The top 5 nation’s neighborhoods in the list are Highland Park in Birmingham, Alabama; Northbrae in Berkeley, California; Ansley Park in Atlanta; Pullman in Chicago and the Gold Cost and Humburg District in Davenport. Highland Park in Birmingham, a 240 acre neighborhood is situated to the east of U.S 280. It is local historic district featuring 20 different architectural styles in bungalow and ranch houses. The neighborhood is also a group of five national historical districts. Northbrae in Berkeley, California encompasses Solano Avenue to the north, Eunice and Hopkins to the south, Spruce Street to the east and Albany city limits to the west. It is noted for it’s volcanic outcroppings, picturesque views, curvilinear streets, excellent transportation connections and public amenities. Ansley Park in Atlanta, Georgia is famed for its linear green way of 14 parks motivated by Frederick Law Olmsted, mix of housing, neighborhood aesthetics, sustainability and engaged citizens. The Pullman in Chicago, a historic district and a town replicating the designs of Essen, Germany and Saltaire, England is a neighborhood offering decent housing options. The Gold Cost and Humburg District in Davenport with its great Mississippi river views is renowned for its exemplary architecture, sustainability, planning, preservation, committed residents and organizations.
J.F Rushton House, Neo Classical Revival Style Home in Highland Park, Birmingham
Majestic Public Circle in Berkeley, California
Maryland has envisioned lot of success in smart growth development and neighborhood revitalization. Plan Maryland has indicated five planning areas: Targeted growth and Revitalization areas; Established Community Areas in Priority Funding Areas, Future Growth Areas; Large Lot Development Areas and Rural Resource Area. These categories are based on growth, land preservation, revitalization, resource conservation, maintaining public services and quality of life. The targeted areas focus on mixed-use, historic residential development, high density development close to transportation network, better educational, recreational and employment opportunities. Plan Maryland designates Art District and Kentlands as Established Community Areas. Art District in Hyattsville, MD, a mixed-use community with row homes, condominiums, community center and live work units is voted the best Urban Smart Growth Community by the National Association of Home Builders and the best Mixed-Use Design by the Monument Awards. It is also chosen as one of the Maryland’s 15 smart sites by the Governor. Kentlands in Gaithersburg, MD with 1,655 residential units and 2 million square feet of retail and office space is the most successful traditional neighborhoods of United States (Plan Maryland, 2011).
Art District in Hyattsville, MD
Kentlands, Gaithersburg, MD
The federal investment programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) program mainly focus on basic requirements of lower income households in older communities. However, the state’s neighborhood revitalization programs insists on creating healthy and sustainable communities with the aid of public investment, to improve the quality of life of residents ( Report by Revitalization Incentive Work Group, 2010) . In January 2010, the Revitalization Incentive Work Group compiled a list of revitalization programs in Maryland, devised to accelerate new investments in areas with infrastructure, community assets and transit opportunities. The core programs are the Neighborhood Business Development (operating as Neighborhood Business works), Community Legacy and the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
As mentioned earlier, all design theories and programs invariably focus on the same characteristics like integrated mixed- use, range of housing types, densities, smart development, good street designs with side walks, on street parking, public spaces and all developments to be adjacent to transportation network. However, there are certain barriers in every jurisdiction to overcome and create successful neighborhoods. Development codes should be updated to encourage mixed-use developments. Developers adapt immediately to changing conditions and the market environment. In order to sustain oneself, they focus on creating what people need. Developers should be given incentives to foster more mixed-use developments. All revitalization programs can be successful only with the joint venture of both public-private investments. Above all comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances should enrich and support the development of good neighborhoods.
- http://www.planning.org/greatplaces/neighborhoods/2011/ (Accessed Jan 2012)
- http://www.mdp.state.md.us/PDF/OurProducts/Publications/ModelsGuidelines/smartneighborhoods.pdf (Accessed Jan 2012)
- http://www.mdp.state.md.us/PDF/OurProducts/Publications/ModelsGuidelines/mg07.pdf (Accessed Jan 2012)
- http://www.dhcd.state.md.us/Website/Documents/Sustainable_Maryland.pdf (Accessed Jan 2012)
- http://plan.maryland.gov/PDF/plan/PlanMaryland_Final.pdf (Accessed Jan 2012)