This post continues Neighborhood design: a Sesame Street-based analysis (Part 1).
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“Each day.” I take this to mean that informal, walking contact with neighbors is frequent.
Of course, it’s possible to take “each day” literally, and demand that every neighbor be seen every day — but then, as soon as one of them goes on vacation or spends a whole day at home (whether sick, remodeling, or catching up on episodes of Lost), you’re out a neighbor. This is a useless definition. It seems equally useless to say that you have to run into at least one neighbor absolutely every day — are you never allowed to take a vacation?
No, “each day” more likely means “frequently enough not to seem unusual” or “in ordinary, everyday circumstances.” My guess is that most of the planned meetings people engage in with a given person (for example, meeting for coffee, going dancing, or watching a movie) are less frequent than once a week, and are very often at indoor locations rather than on the street. If that’s right, then both you and your neighbors must be on the street fairly often, not specifically planning to meet, but there for other reasons.
How often? This is like the question of “how near”: some frequencies are clearly in, and support a neighborhood, while others are clearly out — and there’s a continuum in between. We can say confidently that, if you only ever walk across one other person from nearby, or if you run into each of your neighbors but once every five years, you don’t have neighbors in any meaningful sense.
Also, if you meet your neighbors regularly while walking, you must all live within “walking distance” of the places you frequent. Of course, the distance people are willing to walk regularly will differ from person to person, but I’ve often seen five minutes, or about a quarter-mile, cited as the farthest people will choose to walk before they decide to drive instead or not go at all. If that’s so, then neighbors must live within a five-minute walk of their commonly-visited places: the neighborhood falls within a circle of a quarter-mile radius.
If you don’t like the “five-minute walk” definition, then ask yourself, “How far am I willing to walk on regular errands when it’s twenty below outside?” In cold weather, my wife and I sometimes get a hankering a for a video and some hot buttered rum; however, it’s at least fifteen minutes’ walk to the nearest liquor store and twenty-five minutes’ walk in another direction to the nearest video store. It feels wasteful and bothersome to heat the car up and brush it off for such a short trip — so most of the time we stay home.
To sum up:
- A neighborhood consists of several households. Within limits, more neighbors make it more neighborhood-like.
- Neighborhoods are small. Neighbors must be located near each other, within such a walking distance that several neighbors might see each other frequently.
- Neighborhoods are social — that is, they allow, or even encourage, sociability. People establish at least casual relationships with their neighbors.
- Neighborhoods are for walking.
- Neighborhoods are safe for pedestrians.
- Contact between neighbors is an everyday occurrence.
That describes a neighborhood (based on the simple “Sesame Street definition”) — but just to describe it is not enough. We have to explore what conditions would actually induce places to start acting like neighborhoods, or induce people to start acting like neighbors.
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Next time, I’ll examine people’s reasons for walking in a neighborhood and make more concrete suggestions about how the ideal neighborhood might be designed.