N is for Neighborhood

July 28th, 2007

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To community planners, the term “neighborhood” draws on ideas propounded in England by Ebenezer Howard at the end of the 19th century. Howard postulated a community of six interlinked neighborhoods (or “wards”) of about 5,000 people each, focused on an elementary school, bounded by major streets, and containing a variety of residential accommodations. Industry was located at the perimeter of the community. Commerce was focused on the community center, a few block walk from each neighborhood.

In Howard’s Garden City concept, communities were not permitted to grow beyond these limits. Each Garden City was to be bounded by a publicly owned greenbelt of agricultural land that could not be built upon. When population growth required additional accommodations, a new Garden City would be built.

Idea became reality in 1903 with construction of the first Garden City, Letchworth, England. Four years later, the first planned “neighborhood unit” to be added to an existing city was initiated at Hampstead Garden Suburb, on the outskirts of London. Hampstead’s architect/planners, Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, followed Howard’s neighborhood principles in bringing order, functional efficiency, and environmental beauty to a residence-focused organization of buildings, streets, public institutions, and open spaces. Construction of America’s first Garden Suburb, heavily influenced by Hampstead’s example, was begun in 1910 at Forest Hills Gardens, New York.

The major American adaptation of the British neighborhood idea, however, was rooted in the one-mile square land “section” system of the Midwest. …

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