What is a Neighborhood?
Traditional neighborhoods share these characteristics:
The center. A neighborhood has a discernible center, often a patch of green, sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. In Westcott it is the business district with its theater, restaurants and shops; in Strathmore it is Hiawatha Lake and the surrounding park.
The five minute walk. A neighborhood resident is rarely more than a five-minute walk from the ordinary needs of daily life: living, working and shopping. Beyond about a five-minute walk from the neighborhood center one typically crosses into the next neighborhood.
The street network. The street pattern is in the form of a continuous web providing numerous paths from one location to another. This pattern is often a grid, forming blocks that are typically no more than a quarter mile in perimeter.
Narrow, versatile streets. Because there are many streets to accommodate traffic, each street can be small -- usually no more than two lanes. Narrow streets with parallel parking tend to slow down traffic making them safer and more pleasant to walk along. Neighborhood streets are enhanced by wide sidewalks, shade trees and public and commercial buildings close to the sidewalk so pedestrians can easily access them. When a public or commercial building sits back from the sidewalk, it does so to create an area of value to pedestrians like a plaza or garden -- not a parking lot.
Mixed use. Traditional neighborhoods mix different activities on the same street, even within the same building. For instance, a building with shops on the first floor may have offices on the second floor and apartments on the third.
Special sites for special buildings. Unique sites are devoted to civic buildings. Schools, places of worship and other civic buildings are located in positions that contribute to their prominence, like the end of a major street or on a hill.
These neighborhood characteristics would have been evident in all American towns and cities prior to World War II. Because Syracuse was largely laid out before the war, most of the city is composed of traditional neighborhoods.
This isn't the case with the new housing developments that have sprung up around Syracuse in recent years. Whatever they might be called, they aren't neighborhoods in the traditional sense. Nothing in these sprawling communities is within a five minute walk; living, shopping and working are all zoned into their own discreet areas, each accessible from the others only by automobile. Because activities are geographically segregated, these communities have no center. There is no web of streets offering multiple paths between destinations; dead-end streets ("cul-de-sacs") lead to feeder roads that culminate in highways. Not only must you drive to the store, there is usually only one direct route to get there.
America is slowly coming to realize that traditional neighborhood design had it right all along. Across the country, new pedestrian friendly communities are starting to be built with sidewalks, grid street networks and multiple use buildings -- just like the neighborhoods we in Syracuse have always enjoyed.