Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mr. Roger's Neighborhood

Hattiesburg American.

Most new housing developments today are not neighborhoods; they are simply a collection of storage buildings for people. In the typical American routine, you leave the house in the morning, drive miles and miles to work, chauffer kids to far-away schools or daycare then to farther-away recreational activities. In the evening, after spending much of your day in the car, you go back home, click the garage door up, and all the while you never come in contact with your neighbors.

Think of a village when you think of a healthy neighborhood. A neighborhood is a place where you can choose to walk to work or stroll down to the grocery store or library or coffee shop. In a neighborhood, children walk to school and back home, freeing up parents' time and resources while offering the child a sense of independence. Safety is inherently built in because you know your neighbors and there are friendly eyes and ears on the street.

I think Mr. Polk is correct in his definition of a neighborhood but what is missing in his analysis is why urban sprawl so common these days. If one wishes to recreate that old time neighborhood atmosphere, one must ask why people are moving out of the cities in the first place.

My own opinion is that urban sprawl is simply a population's reaction to the misguided policies of utopians and public policy wonks. People began to move out of the cities and into new developments in the suburbs. The problem with this scenario is that developers can build streets, provide utilites and construct houses, they can't create schools, mass transit, and develop zoning regulations to ensure that commercial properties be located in close proximity to residential. What we ended up with is mass residential pods with little or no support mechanisms to foster the close knit atmosphere so desired by the New Urbanists.

What we have here is a failure to govern.

If we are to bring back the neighborhood, we need to look not at building cottages and picket fences with sidewalks. We need to look at public policy so that the right environment is created whereby the desired neighborhoods are a byproduct. After all, neighborhoods described by Mr. Polk are not built like Walt Disney Word's Main Street but evolve over time as a response to the environment.


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Mark said...

Apropos of nothing on the blog (except one word), Happy Bloom's Day.

salzberg said...

The government of Ontario seems to be moving in the direction of "good government" that you speak. An article in the Toronto Star today addresses the issues you're mentioning - ie, building neighbourhoods instead of just residential pods.

I blogged about it here:

Keep up the great work. We're all rooting for New Orleans (even here in Canada).