What Makes a Neighborhood Great?
Through the years PPS has learned a number of key lessons about what sets apart a great neighborhood from a mediocre one, which are distilled into The Great Neighborhood Book. The key is having a number of good places within the neighborhood where people can go to relax, have fun, and see one another. These are the basic principles of what we call Placemaking, which are outlined below:
- Good places promote sociability These are the spots where you run into people you know, where you take friends and family when you want to show them the neighborhood. These places become the heart and soul of the neighborhood because they offer people many different reasons to go there.
- Good places have lots of things to do
The places people love most are the ones where they can pursue a variety of activities. Without opportunities to do something more than sit and look around, the experience you have in that place is “thin” — there is nothing to keep you there for any length of time.
- Good places are comfortable and attractive
They beckon you to come visit. Flowers, comfortable benches with a nice view, and attractive lighting all make you feel this is a place you want to come to often. In contrast, a place that lacks these kind of amenities often feels unwelcoming and a bit threatening. It may actually be unsafe or just feel unsafe, but either way no one wants to be there.
- Good places are accessible
These places are clearly identifiable from a distance, easy to enter when you get closer, and it is simple to understand how you use them. A space that is not accessible will be end up empty, forlorn and often dilapidated.
- Good places capitalize on the Power of 10
Think of the 10 most important places in your neighborhood. It could be the main shopping street, a park, playground, an interesting shop, a library, post office etc. Zoom in and think about one of these places and try to write down ten fun or useful things you can do there. For example at the post office, you can mail a letter or pick up your mail. At post offices which are truly good places, you can catch up on the community gossip, scan a bulletin board full of local happenings, and sit outside on a bench and open your mail. That makes it easy to chat with neighbors or just peoplewatch. If there is a coffee shop or vending cart nearby, you can even get a drink and sit and enjoy the passing scene. The Power of 10 is the simple but important idea that the more things there are to do in a place, the more beloved and central that place will become in your neighborhood.
- Good places are inspired by the people who live there
The big question is, of course, how do you begin to create the good places that every neighborhood craves? What process can you use to build spots where people want to hang out? Long experience has shown us that bottom-up rather than top-down strategies to create or revitalize public spaces work best. This approach is based on the simple idea that the people who live in a neighborhood are the world’s experts on that particular place. Any project to improve things should be guided by the community’s wisdom, not the dictates of professional disciplines. This is the most important lesson about making great neighborhoods we have learned in 30 years of work.