Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | November 4, 2009

Neighborhood Identity

This is the final post discussing the 13 points of good neighborhood design as described by the Congress for the New Urbanism. All of these ideas aren’t meant to be a guide for how to build new neighborhoods. There is nothing in the list that we can’t really do now in our existing neighborhoods. All it takes is for us identify the problems and offer solutions for this change to happen.

12. Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.

This makes sense also because it provides people with a frame of reference. Some neighborhoods look very similar and it’s easy to get lost or simply get bored with the lack of urban character. Having an easily definable building or space is great for quickly calibrating yourself and understanding where you are. The uniqueness also embeds a spatial character and identity onto the community that will grow with time and memory.

13. The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.

This is very, very important. We have to harness the menacingly powerful Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) mentality. Having the neighborhood be self-governing means that nobody feels powerless to change even the most minor thing. It would be fertile ground for grass-roots activism and provides a great opportunity for anyone to have their voice heard and participate. Today, the decision-makers don’t live with the consequences of their actions. If they do, they will have taken much more care in designing and maintaining our public spaces and urban character. Every neighborhood will, with time, begin to represent the values of the people who speak up. This in turn will attract people who think the same way and drive away the few that don’t.

We have to force accountability and the best way to do this is to delegate the local decision-making to the residents of the community. That’s really where democracy happens; not just the big national issues, but whether to build a wheelchair ramp to access the park toilets. If we don’t speak up, nobody will.


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