Livable, walkable, neighborly communities

Livable, walkable, neighborly communities

Gee, that looks familiar. The new uurban/suburban planning emphasizesneighborliness through house and lot design. While the link is focused on the weekly beer-and-wine block parties in this one community, the overall theme is about making communities more livable, family-friendly, and just plain friendly.

Bradburn is designed to encourage social interaction among neighbors, and judging by the packed park parties and the incredible number of social events here, it works.

Every home in Bradburn includes a large front porch—not just a token 2 foot concrete stoop. Garages are all in the back, and homes here also have very small setbacks (the distance between the house and the sidewalk, or front yard), meaning the porches sit right above the sidewalks. This means people sitting on their front porches easily see neighbors walking by, and they stop to talk, creating a community bond that is so elusive in most traditional suburban neighborhoods.

Funny, but it sounds a lot like Salem, especially the old parts like the Lafayette Street neighborhood we lived in. Almost all the houses were close to the street and had big porches, but whenever we’d go out for evening walks, we’d hardly see anyone. What you would see were the big blue glows of the TVs inside the house.

I’m not saying that these are bad ideas, but that they have to be part of a larger philosophical change. Environment can shape our attitudes, but I think part of the success of places like Bradburn is a sort of self-selection. That is, the kind of people who choose to live in that type of community are the kind who want to be neighborly.

Certainly, I would love to live in a community like that. We’ve only been in our new apartment a few months, but I have to say that from Melanie’s experiences walking around the neighborhood (I don’t get much of a chance these days), there is an old, rooted, and very neighborly community of people whose seed appears to be the Portuguese/Brazilian parish around the corner.

And that’s the essential difference from manufactured communities like Bradburn. In the old days, marketers didn’t build communities; they sprung around the central axis of communal life, which was the church.

[Link via BoingBoing]
  • Melrose, Mass. had this down in the mid-1800s, when one of the first suburban developments outside Boston (on the East Side, in a grid of blocks around Melrose Common) was laid out this way. It was then-Congressman Gooch’s Home Building Association’s project, built on farmland purchased from the Upham family (which family settled the area when it was still part of Charlestown), and it was built out over a couple of generations. NOthing like Levittown. It’s great. The homes are set a bit further back, but almost all had porches of some form, are close enough together to encourage respectful neighborliness without inducing claustrophobia, and the garages that rose later were perforce sited at the rear or sides of lots.

  • Those neighborhoods have been tried in the KC metro area lately, but they have not been selling, so the ideas are starting to be abandoned.  Sigh.  I’d like to live in one of those too, but I married a country boy, so we’ll be out in the sticks.

  • If you look at the site plan for Bradburn, then the site plan for Ave Maria Town, you’ll see how weak the claims are that the latter follows “new urbanist” principles. No cul-de-sacs in one, lots of cul-de-sacs in the other. You do the math.