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Neighborhood Planning


VISION: In the best neighborhoods, the ones we mean to nurture, people know that “the heart is more important than the head” (from Streets of Hope). Residents recognize one another and count friends and family among their neighbors. They have a sense of concern and responsibility for the neighborhood and its people that is translated into action.

In the best neighborhoods:

Schools with small enrollments are one core of neighborhood life. The schools have strong parent and resident involvement. They work in partnership with the neighborhood to achieve high shared aspirations for youth, educate adults, and help solve community problems. Residents are welcome to use the gym, recreational fields, auditorium, and meeting rooms.

The school site is the place where human service agency staff collaborate to address the needs of families. Their staffs realize that people turn first to friends and neighbors when they have problems. These informal helping systems are sought out and strengthened.

Many housing options exist for people in different stages of life and income levels. Housing values are neither rising rapidly (gentrification) nor falling (decline). Quality is maintained through upgrading by residents made possible by private capital or well-crafted affordable housing subsidies.

Local businesses such as grocery and other retail stores, professional offices, bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops are within a walk of home. Neighborhood life forms a network of relationships that helps people find jobs, start new businesses, and raise capital.

People ensure public safety by looking out for each other, and creating partnerships with the police and public agencies to solve crimes and reduce the causes of crime.

The neighborhood is well kept. Problems that arise (housing deterioration, trash, or abandoned autos) are dealt with quickly by responsive agencies. The neighborhood has a comforting sense of place expressed through its physical character.

The best neighborhoods are not utopias. They are places where people care about one another enough that there are few problems that cannot be solved by working together.

The neighborhood built environment:

The best neighborhoods have regulations controlling the built environment that enhance the neighborhood.  By “built environment”, we mean its buildings (houses, apartments, stores, offices, public buildings like schools, even industries, and so on), streetscapes (including sidewalks, landscaped strips, sidewalks, on-street parking, traffic & bicycle lanes, etc.), and its parks and playgrounds.

These regulations would, in general:
* Protect the quality of old and historic structures and the compatibility of new buildings and remodels with existing, valued architecture;
* Pull together buildings and other land uses, such as coffee shops, bookstores, small groceries, schools, plazas and parks, public meeting space, etc., in pedestrian & bicycle friendly clusters;
* Call for signs, windows, doors, sidewalks, building facades (e.g. porches, stoops, awnings), lighting, and so on to be built in ways that are attractive to pedestrians;
* Establish narrow local streets with on-street parking and other features that would slow traffic, and that move on-site parking away from the public view;
* Allow mutually supporting mixes of uses and densities.

Such regulations would form the basis for governmental enforcement that would, in time, eliminate undesirable buildings and building features and require good property maintenance.

Area-wide growth management:

Good quality neighborhoods are supported by area-wide growth and development regulations.  These regulations incorporate the imperative that good quality older neighborhoods are a fundamental part of the town, or city, or regional growth management strategy.

Effective neighborhood plans and growth management:

Colombo’s and Balizer’s experience leads to the conclusion that an active citizenry and good neighborhood plans with well-considered area growth management can transform our communities in very positive ways.

It is possible:
* … to establish enjoyable, pedestrian-active town and village centers, Main Streets, and neighborhoods,
* … foster community in neighborhoods in which residents look out for and help one another,
* … stabilize housing and provide workforce housing,
* … reduce dependence on vehicles and create healthier environments,
* … increase positive educational outcomes and achieve high graduate rates,
* … reduce crime,
* … reverse blight and abandonment,
* … increase economic opportunities.

Neighborhood plans:

Have to be “owned” by the neighborhood. It is as if the pages are put together in ring binders.  They change and evolve over time, being strategic programs of action mostly for neighborhood residents, property owners, and their supporters. 

Neighborhood plans may be formally adopted by local governments and structure government relations and programs within the neighborhood.  They also can establish governmental regulations for land use, building design, and streetscapes (the portion of the public right of way from the property line to property line across the street).  Or neighborhood plans can be less formal and more internal guides for neighborhood residents.

Neighborhood planning usually is supported by government planners.  This practice may not be best for the neighborhood.  Neighborhoods can produce their own plans, usually assisted by advisors such as in housing, public safety, and economic development.  It especially is helpful for neighborhoods to be assisted by those who understand how neighborhood plans and planning can mobilize public involvement; leverage resources from local government, school systems, businesses, and foundations; and establish community-supported development regulations.

The technical issues surrounding these plans should never cloud the fact that a strong, representative, and effective neighborhood organization is the most important goal of the effort.




The Neighborhood Planning web site
is an expression of the passion of its authors. The site contents are posted as an educational resource for those who take full pride in their neighborhoods and want to protect and improve them.

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Copyright 2005
Dr. Louis Colombo & Ken Balizer, AICP